I've been reading The House by the Lake by Thomas Harding, which was one of our bestsellers at Christmas. This was an unlikely success. Harding is a descendant of the Jewish family which had to escape from an idyllic village on the outskirts of Berlin in the Thirties. What started as a curiosity about a home treasured in memory for his grandmother, became an overwhelming interest. He researched right back to the original estate, through various owners and tenants until finally he was able to convince the authorities that this quite ordinary house should be conserved.
Although the house is the main character, the people passing through are all interesting and tell the social history of Germany in the twentieth century. Most interesting of all is the barbed wire fence which was one day erected at the lake edge at the bottom of the garden. This eventually became the Berlin Wall! He calls it A Story of Germany, as indeed it is. Highly recommended and also, if you haven't read Stasiland by Anna Funder, I recommend you now read this fabulous account of the German Democratic Republic.
It is a happy choice that I am now making my way through John le Carré: The Biography by Adam Sisman. It is over six hundred pages, of which fifty contain notes and then the index. Le Carrés real name is David Cornwell and Ronnie Cornwell, his father, was a consummate con-man who dominated the lives of his sons, David and Antony Cornwell. He is immortalised in A Perfect Spy, my favourite. At one point I feared author Adam Sisman had also been conquered by the charming Ronnie as the first one hundred pages are taken over by Ronnie!
This is a fascinating book. One can tend to forget the enormous success of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, le Carré's third book written while he was working in the secret services. And one can sometimes overlook just how many books Le Carré has written, and continues to write. He worked very hard, especially in the days before a word processor.
He was always diligent, revising proofs right up till the last possible moment and often contributed to the film scripts of his books and even, like Hitchcock, enjoyed a cameo part in several of the films. I think he was indeed addicted to writing. He became fabulously wealthy and very famous. The middle part of the book dealing with negotiations with publishers and film producers is gloriously full of trade gossip. He does become rather angry at the state of the world. He says he became more radical as he grew older and certainly agrees he has had a wonderful life. I think he wrote twenty three books, most of them classified as espionage thrillers, always with a political angle which often proved prescient.
A new book is due soon and his backlist is being reissued regularly as licences expire. These are the titles in his catalogue:
- The Spy who Came in from the Cold
- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
- Smiley's People
- The Secret Pilgrim
- Call for the Dead
- A Delicate Truth
- The Naive and Sentimental Lover
- The Tailor of Panama
- The Mission Song
- The Honourable Schoolboy
- A Murder of Quality
- The Constant Gardener
- A Small Town in Germany
- The Night Manager
- A Most Wanted Man
We also have a DVD set comprising Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People and a Spanish edition of The Constant Gardener Jardinero El Fiel. The biographer widely discusses reviews and plots of the books so you can sort out which title you can start with to dip into le Carré's marvellous catalogue.
It has also won the Colin Roderick Award. This is a book that has just evolved over the years since Michael was writing about Marcus Clark in the 70's. He has had suggestions and connections from all sorts of people who played a part in fossicking out the story of these three famous Australian authors. Everyone is pleased that it made it into print.
Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers