In reading the blessed-by-Cornwell-himself Carré biography by Adam Sisman, I have had the distinct painful pleasure of walking a mile in David’s shoes. I hesitated to say this, but decided to anyway: I was surprised to find those shoes are my own. In reading Cornwell’s story, I’ve had much about myself validated.
The reluctant-but-necessary public figure much happier alone.
The make-nice smile trotted out but hiding pain and doubt.
A strong core of values assaulted from all sides by those who need you to do something for them.
I’ve often wondered when I die, will anybody show up? Will anybody see the need to show up? What will be said about me? More importantly, who would say it?
My story is so complicated — the all — and my ego so egotistical — the warts — that I am only now able to talk about myself. Though I wrote my memoir, it was so painful I could not write it in first person and ended up using the second person, and assigning nicknames to all the close characters in my life. Only a few of the passersby-strangers got real names mentioned. I always felt I was a spy in my own family.
I tell you this to let you know that I understand the huge job Adam Sisman had in telling David Cornwell’s story. According to David Cornwell, Sisman telling all about the warts, but he wondered where was the all. Legitimate concern.
I’m here to tell you Sisman did a marvelous job of capturing the essence of the man.
Further, Adam did it in the only way he could: at arms length. He tells the story of a complicated man in a series of vignettes that circle back around, connecting up the two ends of a string.
There are no warm fuzzies about the man to be told.
There is no happy story, not one, to illustrate David’s humanity and yet, taken as a whole, the book shows us the humanity of a man deeply caring and always wanting to do the right thing but because of unsought complications gunning for him, found even his goodness misconstrued, and often accused of not caring.
Cornwell could not write as he does — with all the depth and angst and thoughtfulness of so many varied characters — without himself being all those at the same time.
From the first page Adam Sisman has done a masterful job of telling the story of a master. I congratulate him on his skill and attention to detail.
If you are a writer, that is a writer writing bigger than your own life. If you are an agent or publisher who’s wondering why the business used to work so well. And if you have not read this book, well then, you should.