Saturday, August 26, 2017

"Reading John le Carré’s 1993 novel The Night Manager, I was struck by the odd sensation that I had actually met the villain of the story"

Roper is, of course, a fictional character. But it didn’t take long to figure out whom he reminded me of: Alan Clark


I don’t know whether le Carré—or David Cornwell, his real name—had Clark in mind when he wrote The Night Manager. But I was fascinated to read in Adam Sisman’s riveting new biography of the novelist that the two men once knew each other well.


Le Carré and Clark drove through Europe in Clark’s Mercedes 600. They exchanged letters with endearments like “lover boy” and “golden boy.” Even though Clark was married to a much younger woman, he would often use his friend’s London flat for secret sexual encounters. Le Carré was sometimes appalled, but also intrigued, by Clark’s extreme views and disreputable friends. The two finally fell out after one of Clark’s trysts; le Carré’s housekeeper had found blood on the walls; very young girls had allegedly been involved. Le Carré decided that his friend was “too rich for my blood.”

Sisman writes judiciously about this odd friendship. Le Carré, he observes, “detected in [Clark] an unusual capacity for evil. For him, Clark was a kind of Mephistopheles, whose wicked example he found both fascinating and repellent.” This combination of attraction and repulsion, in particular toward British elites, runs like a current through much of le Carré’s life and often electrified his literary work.