High Praise, by John le Carré

Sign in to access Harper’s Magazine

Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?

  1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
  2. Select Email/Password Information.
  3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.

Locked out of your account? Get help here.

Subscribers can find additional help here.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!

To change your password click here.

Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
Subscribe for Full Access
Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.

From a 1992 letter written by John le Carré (David John Moore Cornwell) to Philip Roth, sent after le Carré read a draft of Roth’s Operation Shylock. The letter is included in A Private Spy: The Letters of John le Carré, which was published in December by Viking.

Dear Philip,

Congratulations! What else can I say? What other use can I be, than to tell you what you know—that you have moved, embarrassed, entertained, and maddened me, driven me through a city of lights at dead of night at breakneck speed, perplexed me, summoned my anti-Semitic self from his contented grave, and given me a great time?

I don’t know how you want me to help otherwise—I was no use to Joyce on Ulysses, fucked up completely when Kafka needed me, all I could suggest to Nabokov was “Couldn’t you just maybe give her a couple more years?” but he wouldn’t listen. You are so far from form by the end that this old formalist can only shake his formal white locks and say—“Well, if he can do it, and he can, why undo it?” It’s brilliant, perplexing, suicidal, and great.

If I can offer one formal suggestion: when he meets his other self, I need a thousand violins and you don’t give them to me until the following chapter. It works okay as you have it, but I would favor a prolonged examination (you give it later but I say give it earlier) BEFORE you make the recognition of “Christ, it’s me.” I really want to eat, drink, and fuck that moment, before you give me the solution. The chapter break robs me of my satisfaction.

Anyway, I promise to keep it all fresh in my head till we meet. No more picking the flyshit out of the pepper. A huge, grand, tragic thing, & insoluble. Thanks.

Love to you both,

More from