The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from my life by John Le Carré [Review]

*I received The Pigeon Tunnel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Penguin Random House Canada Limited-The Pigeon Tunnel_ Stories f
The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life – John le Carré (CNW Group/Penguin Random House Canada Limited)

I have a confession to make before we really get into this. The only Le Carré I have read is The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. And I liked it, I really did, but spy novels aren’t really my thing. I love spy movies, and non-fiction books, but I’m by no means an expert on Le Carré.

Luckily for me, this is a memoir, told like a short story collection. This isn’t a chronological retelling of a life, but rather a collection of recollections that shed light on a fascinating life and a history of Cold War politics and espionage. It’s an incredible story as a whole, and I had to remind myself throughout the book that this wasn’t fiction, and more amazingly, the story of a single life, lived large.

Le Carré humbly presents his stories with a real sense of historical perspective, and is open and honest about what he’s willing to share, and what he will take to his grave. He’s a master story-teller who remains tight-lipped and conscious that his words could have consequences, and this grounding only serves to make the book all the more compelling.

I think I valued this book the most as a bridge between Le Carré the author, and Le Carré the former spy. His books have been, and continue to be, successful because they read as plausible, gripping stories that I think we all assume have some grain of truth to them. The fun is always trying to sort out how close the reality the fiction might be, especially as we’re armed with the knowledge of Le Carré’s former career. This collection taunts us with tidbits of real-life encounters with major Cold War players, and is full of secretive meetings and exchanges that can only serve to fuel our desperate desire to know the truth, once and for all. Le Carré keeps us engaged and invested by never really giving us a clear answer, and so we read on.

As a librarian, I try to classify books. I don’t mean by Dewey number or shelf location as you might think, but when I finish a book, I put it on a shelf in my brain about who I might recommend that book to. There’s a book for every reader, after all. When I tried to do this with The Pigeon Tunnel, I was happy to note how many readers would enjoy it. If you like Le Carré and his novels, this book is for you. If you’re interested in a history of espionage, this book is for you. If you want to learn more about the Cold War and its global implications, this book is for you. If you love a well-written and thoughtful memoir, this book is for you. If you like short stories, this book is for you.

Recommended Reading:

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre

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