Spy author John le Carré reunited with estranged mother at Ipswich railway station

Ipswich railway station

Ipswich railway station - Credit: Archant

Secret meetings at railway stations are a common occurrence for those involved in espionage – as any avid reader of spy novels will know.

John Le Carre. Photo credit: Ian West/PA Wire

John Le Carre. Photo credit: Ian West/PA Wire - Credit: PA

But when John le Carré, arguably the greatest writer of fiction from that genre, described an encounter at Ipswich Railway Station in his latest book, there was an altogether more human tale to be told.

According to extracts of his new memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel, le Carré was visiting Suffolk “some 60 years back” to meet with his estranged mother Olive.

In extracts published in the Guardian, le Carré writes about both his parents with little warmth.

While Ronnie, his father, is described as a “conman, fantasist, and occasional jailbird”, his relationship with his mother seems just as strained.


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After their reunion at Ipswich station, le Carré writes that despite having “broadly attended to her needs” thereafter, he sill had “no idea what sort of person she was”.

“From the day of our reunion until she died, the frozen child in me showed not the smallest sign to thawing out,” he said.

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“Did she love animals? Landscape? The sea that she lived beside? Music? Painting? Me? Did she read books? Certainly she had no high opinion of mine, but what about other people’s?”

The 84-year-old author, whose notable works include: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold; The Constant Gardener and Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy, also refers briefly to his work for British intelligence “performed mostly in Germany”. However, he gives little details, claiming to have been “bound by vestiges of old-fashioned loyalty to my former services”.

Other extracts from the book cover his meeting with the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a lunch with media mogul Rupert Murdoch and working with Sir Alec Guinness, the actor.

The Pigeon Tunnel, published by Penguin Books, is released today.

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