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Spies by Michael Frayn

Spies (2002)

by Michael Frayn

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We read this on English on Isle of Wight 05-06 on 6th form. ( )
  kajsa88 | Mar 8, 2014 |
The second Frayn book I've tried and failed to read. It's likely the first one prejudiced me against this, despite assurances from my family that it's good. I really couldn't get into it. The style seemed unnecessarily wordy and somewhat pretentious, but wasn't satisfying enough in itself to make it interesting. There was an early irritating touch in the protagonist finding out the name of a plant and refusing to divulge it to the reader, presumably an attempt to seem either interesting or mysterious, and achieving neither. After a prologue that was seemed as pointless as prologues usually seem, Frayn moved on to depicting the slightly unsatisfactory childhood of the protagonist through his own recollections. Deducing from the first few pages that the protagonist was likely to be miserable, his affluent older friend domineering, that nothing particularly fun seemed likely to happen, that the style grated on me, and - in short - that it read like a literary novel rather than a story of childhood adventure, I decided it wasn't worth my time. ( )
  Shimmin | Nov 29, 2013 |
It may be that I dislike this book because it was forced on me, or it could be that I simply could not even like the protagonist, I'm not sure.

I usually love war fiction, no matter where it's set, but this just didn't do it for me.

It was like reading a babbling eight year-old's story that he'd just made up, and I get a headache just thinking about it. It didn't flow right for me.

I now can't walk past a privet hedge without thinking of this bloody book. ( )
  Corazie | Jul 25, 2013 |
I feel I should have enjoyed this more than I did. I am not sure I really bought the idea that Uncle Peter was hiding in the cellars on the other side of the railway underpass. Sorry. ( )
  adrianburke | Feb 23, 2013 |
You wouldn't think that a story about two boys at play could turn into such a nail-biter, especially when neither child is ever in any real danger. Yet Michael Frayn's 2002 novel "Spies" reads like a thriller.

Certain odors can take us back to faraway places and long-ago times, and it is a smell that causes an old man, Stephen Wheatley, to remember a particular summer during World War II when he was growing up in a new neighborhood in London.

Stephen is a quiet boy, preyed on by bullies, whose only friend is Keith, also a loner. In their relationship, Keith is always the leader, Stephen always the follower. Keith invents the fanciful games they play. One day Keith announces, "My mother is a German spy." And so the boys, doing their patriotic duty, closely observe Keith's mother to try to learn her secrets.

It turns out that his mother, if perhaps not a spy, nevertheless does have secrets, and what the boys discover shakes up their lives and the lives of others in the neighborhood.

Frayn is marvelous writer, and "Spies" really is hard to put down. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Jan 18, 2013 |
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The third week of June, and there it is again: the same almost embarrassingly familiar breath of sweetness that comes every year about this time.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0571212964, Paperback)

In Michael Frayn's novel Spies an old man returns to the scene of his seemingly ordinary suburban childhood. Stephen Wheatley is unsure of what he is seeking, but as he walks once-familiar streets he hasn't seen in 50 years, he unfolds a story of childish games colliding cruelly with adult realities. It is wartime and Stephen's friend Keith makes the momentous announcement that his mother is a German spy. The two boys begin to spy on the supposed spy, following her on her trips to the shops and to the post office, and reading her diary. Keith's mother does have secrets to conceal but they are not the ones the boys suspect. Frayn skillfully manipulates his plot so that the reader's growing awareness of the truth remains just a few steps beyond young Stephen's dawning realization that he is trespassing on painful and dangerous territory. The only false notes occur in the final chapter when the central revelation is too swiftly followed by further disclosures about Stephen and his family that seem somehow unnecessary and make the denouement less satisfyingly conclusive. This is a much sparer and less expansive book than Frayn's 1999 novel Headlong, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize. --Nick Rennison, Amazon.co.uk

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:23:51 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"The sudden trace of a troubling, familiar smell takes Stephen Wheatley back to a dimly remembered yet disturbing childhood summer in wartime London. As he pieces together the scattered images, we are transported to a quiet street, where two boys - Keith and his sidekick Stephen - are engaged in their own version of the war effort: spying on the neighbors, recording their movements, ferreting out their secrets.". "In the peaceful Close, the only visible signs of war are the nightly blackout and a single random bombsite. To the boys, though, the whole district is riddled with secret passages, underground laboratories, and hideaways for secret agents that must be monitored. And then, with six shocking words, Keith reveals that the Germans have infiltrated his family; from that point, the espionage game takes a sinister and unintended turn. A wife's simple errands and a family's ordinary rituals, the unremarkable geography of post office and railway tracks, are no longer the objects of childish speculation but the tragic elements of adult catastrophe."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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