The figurative language of John le Carré

Reading time: Less than 2 minutes

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of metaphors and similes from John LeCarré…

I don’t typically read mysteries or thrillers but my friend Brian urged me to make an exception for the John le Carré memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel. And I’m glad I did. The man has a remarkable facility with figurative language. He’s much more sophisticated than most “popular writers”

Here are my favourite examples from his 2016 book:

  • Spying and novel writing are made for each other. Both call for a ready eye for human transgression and the many routes to betrayal.
  • In adolescence we are all spies of a sort, but I was a veteran.
  • But I do remember with certainty the exhaustion in Ward’s face as, aware that we were some sort of VIPs, he turned to greet us: the fraught, aquiline profile, skin stretched tight, the rigid smile and exophthalmic eyes reddened and ringed with tiredness; and the husky smoker’s voice, playing it for nonchalance.
  • He [Yassar Arafat] has taken hold of the tail end of his keffiyeh and is whirling it like Alec Guinness playing Fagin in the movie of Oliver Twist.
  • Try to describe Russia without vodka in those days you might as well describe a horse race without horses.
  • The pool is heated to stockbroker temperature.
  • Murdoch’s advisers had urged him to remove the array of gold rings from his left hand before he informed his audience, with a clot in his voice, that this was the humblest day of his life.
  • He was thin as a wand, and seemed always to hover slightly above the ground at a jaunty angle, a quiet smile on his face and one elbow cocked for the martini glass or cigarette.
  • When his glass came, he ducked his lips to it in the practiced movement of an habitual drinker and emptied it in two gulps.