John Le Carré, father of the modern spy novel, has asked to have his name removed from the Man Booker International prize shortlist. According to the Guardian, Le Carré released a statement saying, “I am enormously flattered to be named as a finalist of the 2011 Man Booker International prize. However, I do not compete for literary prizes and have therefore asked for my name to be withdrawn.”
Agents of Goldstein has always admired Le Carré, not least because he eschews the usual black & white, us vs. them approach to espionage fiction that has so long plagued the genre. Le Carré opts for a subtler, more nuanced approach where the line between good an bad is often porous, and sometimes not there at all. Scenes of murders, beatings, and assassinations are rare in Le Carré’s work, as they are in real espionage work. Most of the action takes place in contentious meetings and conversations taken along the rain-soaked sidewalks of London. Only Le Carré could spend fifteen pages on a what is essentially a PowerPoint presentation to bureaucrats seem spellbinding, as he did in Our Kind of Traitor.
At this point in his career, Le Carré needs no more validation, and certainly the Booker Prize won’t raise his already high-profile by all that much. He is an author with nothing left to prove. Despite his best efforts, he has seen the genre he fathered grow into the monster that it is today, riven as it is with unidimensional heroes and cardboard villains. Perhaps he has grown cynical.
Or maybe he’s just content.