“I’m a liar. Born to lying, bred to it, trained to it by an industry that lies for a living, practiced in it as a novelist.”
So confesses David Cornwell, in his extensive biography written by Adam Sisman, which I have just completed, all 600 pages.
David Cornwell? You will know him better as John le Carré, whose Night Manager finished its six week run on BBC1 this Easter Sunday. You probably watched it, along with another 6.2 million viewers.
Sisman’s thoroughly researched book was altogether fascinating. Having read all of le Carré’s books I had no idea that they were so autobiographical. So many of his characters and situations are derived from real life, simply lifted entire from his memory and dropped onto the page.
His real life began with an utterly wretched childhood. He was just five when his mother walked out, never to reappear. She had had enough of her husband’s cheating both as a flamboyant con merchant and a fast-spending philanderer.
So in watching the Night Manager, you would never have realized that the dominant character, Richard Onslow Roper – so brilliant played by Hugh Laurie as “the worst man in the world” – is essentially le Carré’s father, Ronnie Cornwell. Except Ronnie never quite made it: he went to prison, at least twice.
David Farr, who reworked the novel for television, in speaking of the main character, Jonathan Pine could have been speaking of le Carré himself: “But this all comes from a strange shame. A doubt that his soul is pure. And he seeks a father.”
However, the world which Farr created for the screen differs in one very important respect from that of the novel: it has a happy ending. Justice prevails: the baddies lose, a mother is united with her son, the world is left a better place. This is not the world of le Carré.
You may remember the last scene in the BBC classic Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, as Alex Guinness’ George Smiley, pitied by his estranged wife, peers myopically into his future. Typical le Carré.
For so many of the worlds we enter in contemporary drama are sad, invariably meaningless. Happy Valley and Trapped, both recently broadcast on BBC, conclude with their hero, in both cases police officers, trudging sadly into their lonely futures.
The big question is how do we encounter reality? So much of how we interpret what happens around us and within us is determined by our past, by our upbringing.
American star actress Patty Duke, who sadly died this Tuesday, confessed “Reality is hard. It is no walk in the park, this thing called Life.”
Reality as conveyed in the pages of scripture is indeed hard. Suffering, sadness, pain – it’s all there. We are spared no details. The writers of the Bible pull no punches, not least in the Gospels. The tragedy of Jesus of Nazareth is not glossed over, his abandonment, his mock trial and his cruel crucifixion.
Except that is it not a tragedy. The very opposite.
As Jesus is finally hauled up nailed to his cross, we see not the hapless and hopeless victim raised to view but the Lord of glory himself, exalted on high.
As Jesus himself explained: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32). A deliberate play on words here for the Greek for lifted up also means exalted. John goes onto explain: “He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.”
A totally different way of looking a life, simply as a result of the Easter victory of Jesus. His resurrection changes everything. We are challenged to encounter reality in a new way.
For the real reality is that we are loved, valued, honoured by the God of heaven and earth, our Creator. If we can get your head around this (and we need the Holy Spirit to help us), then our whole view on life is radically transformed. For justice will indeed prevail.
And at the very heart of this renewed and transformed perspective on life is an event, something which happened in history, at a real time and in a real place. Witness the empty tomb.
At morning prayer just a few minutes ago we acclaimed the truth:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your sting?
Christ is risen from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Death is swallowed up in victory.
And that makes all the difference.