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Spies by Michael Frayn
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Spies (original 2002; edition 2003)

by Michael Frayn

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1,176346,861 (3.65)55
Member:vviolet
Title:Spies
Authors:Michael Frayn
Info:Faber and Faber (2003), Edition: New edition, Paperback, 272 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:fiction

Work details

Spies by Michael Frayn (2002)

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Read during Summer 2006

I read this and saw Frayn's play "Copenhagen" at the same time and it was an interesting compare and constrast. Both deal with the transitory nature of memory but Spies also has the overlap of kid and adult worlds. It was told by the adult verision of one of the children and I liked the way he drifted from the present to the past and back again. The two main children, Stephen and Kevin, are always involved in some complicated game that Kevin has made up but when he deceides his mother is a German spy (it is World War II), the game becomes very complicated. The real world and the pretend world intersect in very real ways. I became thoroughly engrossed in it and, even though the mysteries were not totally mysterious, it was still completely fascinating. I'm looking forward to read more by him.
  amyem58 | Jul 14, 2014 |
I noted that this book is now on A-level English Literature reading list yet I had never heard of it which rather piqued my interest so decided to give it a go.

Stephen Wheatley is an old man living in a foreign country when a smell rekindles some long buried memories so he decides to revisit his old childhood home back in the UK. During WWII Stephen and his best friend Keith decide to spy on Keith's mother whom they believe is a German spy. It is pretty obvious that she is not an enemy agent but does have secrets which she does not want revealed and it is also obvious,despite another a neighbouring child who is spying on Stephen and Keith that it is not a case of simple marital infidelity.

In many respects this is a simple tale of childhood reminiscences but it is also a coming of age story that peoples private and public personas are not always the same. The author uses smells and senses as triggers as these are more reliable than emotions alone.

The boys' ages are not even hinted at until very near the end and the first and third person are often used in the same sentence so that the memories belong to the young Stephen rather than the old one which is well conceived. However on the whole the book failed to really grab me and I found it rather ponderous at times. A good read but nothing special for me. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Jul 2, 2014 |
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 |
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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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