John le Carré meets Noir: one of the most amazing events in the history of our festival. David Cornwell was our guest at the dawn of this new century, in 2001, when he traveled to Courmayeur to receive the Raymond Chandler Award.
by Marina Fabbri and Giorgio Gosetti
It’s obvious, we suppose, that for the master of the spy story, Noir’s invite would become something of a noir itself, and le Carré explained why, more or less in these words: “To write my novels, I rely on anonymity, without which I could never undertake the research needed for each book.” Food critics would agree: can you even imagine someone snooping around using John le Carré as a calling card? At Noir, we would have gotten nowhere if not for the crucial mediation of Irene Bignardi, La Repubblica’s film critic and former MystFest director. That festival had had close ties to Cornwell, his family, and his literary agents in Geneva for years. Thanks to Bignardi, Noir got its introduction, direct contact and a remarkable amount of attention from the author, whose warmth and straightforwardness surprised us. But then, these are qualities that only the greats can dispense so generously. After a flurry of emails back and forth (le Carrè was curious about every last detail of the festival and the prize involved), the moment of truth arrived: would he agree to come? We were holding our breath until a courteous message from his agent came in: “Mr. Cornwell will be waiting for a festival contact on the terrace of the Hotel Baur et Lac, in order to drive down to Courmayeur. Length of stay? He will be departing immediately after meeting with the public and receiving his award, and traveling on to an unknown destination, to be announced in due time.”
Le Carré would thus pass through, like a secret agent on a mission. But how very different from that his appearance was: that warmth and generosity noted above, in sharing with us anecdotes about himself and his work; that vigorous civic passion he displayed while discussing the evils of power and the morality of that least moral profession, spydom! And how knowingly he retraced the steps of the most English of American novelists (Raymond Chandler, to wit), and how respectfully he regarded our own work, as we eyed him as a living legend, then received all the warmth of a brilliant, passionate artist! Le Carré said his goodbyes and left ever so discreetly, yet the letter he sent us later from his hermitage in Cornwall showed he was surprisingly grateful for the small but proud token of our esteem (a coin not much bigger than a euro that faithfully reproduced the noted Brasher Doubloon described in The High Window), which award we still associate with our fondest festival memory.