Authors express regret over 15-year-long war of words which began when Le Carré criticised The Satanic Verses
Last month, Rushdie told an audience at the Cheltenham literature festival that he "really" admired Le Carré as a writer. "I wish we hadn't done it," he said of the 15-year-old feud which played out in the letters pages of the Guardian in 1997. "I think of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as one of the great novels of postwar Britain."
Now Le Carré has also extended an olive branch. "I too regret the dispute," he told the Times. The fight had its roots in Le Carré's criticism of The Satanic Verses: "My position was that there is no law in life or nature that says great religions may be insulted with impunity," said Le Carré. When Le Carré was later accused of antisemitism, Rushdie wrote to the Guardian expressing his lack of sympathy. Le Carré responded, saying Rushdie's "way with the truth is as self-serving as ever"; Rushdie called Le Carré a "pompous ass"; and then Christopher Hitchens waded in, taking Rushdie's side and saying: "John le Carré's conduct in your pages is like nothing so much as that of a man who, having relieved himself in his own hat, makes haste to clamp the brimming chapeau on his head."
Rushdie was then accused of "self-canonisation" by Le Carré, but the Satanic Verses author had the last word. "I did call him a pompous ass, which I thought pretty mild in the circumstances. 'Ignorant' and 'semi-literate' are dunces' caps he has skilfully fitted on his own head. I wouldn't dream of removing them," he wrote.
But following in the footsteps of Paul Theroux and VS Naipaul, who shook hands at last year's Hay festival after a lengthy falling out, Rushdie and Le Carré's wounds appear to have healed today. "I admire Salman for his work and his courage, and I respect his stand. Does that answer the larger debate which continues to this day?" Le Carré told the Times.
"Should we be free to burn Korans, mock the passionately held religions of others? Maybe we should – but should we also be surprised when the believers we have offended respond in fury? I couldn't answer that question at the time and, with all good will, I still can't. But I am a little proud, in retrospect, that I spoke against the easy trend, reckoning with the wrath of outraged western intellectuals, and suffering it in all its righteous glory. And if I met Salman tomorrow? I would warmly shake the hand of a brilliant fellow writer."