If Edward Snowden Had Been Able to Write

“In your new novel, sir,” an earnest American journalist asks me, “you have a man saying of your central character that he would not have become a traitor if he had been able to write. Can you tell me, please, what would have become of you, if you had not been able to write?”

Searching for a safe answer to this dangerous question, I wonder whether our secret services should not be grateful to their literary defectors after all. Compared with the hell we might have raised by other means, writing was as harmless as playing with our bricks. How much our poor beleaguered spies must be wishing that Edward Snowden had done the novel instead.

—From John le Carre’s The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life. The Snowden reference comes after le Carre points out that novelists from Somerset Maugham to Graham Greene to himself have been threatened with treason for working for the Secret Service and then writing spy novels.

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