The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from my Life by John le Carré
Le Carré places his account of his father, the abusive conman Ronnie, at the end of the book rather than the beginning, ‘because, much as he would like to, I didn’t want him elbowing his way to the top of the bill’.
Of course this means that we hear about le Carré’s own childhood at the end as well. A loveless childhood it would seem, detached from both father and his mother who escaped her marriage, abandoning the family when le Carré was five. ‘Today, I don’t remember feeling any affection in childhood except for my elder brother, who for a time was my only parent’. He notes that he owes his two wives ‘immeasurable thanks’ and ‘not a few apologies … Love came to me late, after many missteps. I owe my ethical education to my four sons’.
Le Carré closes this part of the memoir with a rather beautiful paragraph, which seems to capture the perspective he has gained.
In my childhood, everyone around me tried to sell me the Christian God in one form or another. I got the low church from my aunts, uncles and grandparents, the high church from my schools. When I was brought to the bishop to be confirmed, I tried my hardest to feel pious, and felt nothing. For another ten years I went on trying to acquire some sort of religious conviction, then gave it up as a bad job. Today, I have no god except landscape, and no expectation of death but extinction. I rejoice constantly in my family and the people who love me, and whom I love in return. Walking the Cornish cliffs, I am overtaken with surges of gratitude for my life.
The Pigeon Tunnel is well worth a read.