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Spies: A Novel
by Michael Frayn

Published: 2003-01-18
Paperback : 261 pages
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The National Bestseller

The sudden trace of a disturbing, forgotten aroma compels Stephen Wheatley to return to the site of a dimly remembered but troubling childhood summer in wartime London. As he pieces together his scattered memories, we are brought back to a quiet, suburban street ...
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Introduction

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The National Bestseller

The sudden trace of a disturbing, forgotten aroma compels Stephen Wheatley to return to the site of a dimly remembered but troubling childhood summer in wartime London. As he pieces together his scattered memories, we are brought back to a quiet, suburban 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, and ferreting out their secrets. But when Keith utters six shocking words, the boy's game of espionage takes a sinister and unintended turn, transforming a wife's simple errands and the ordinary rituals of family life into the elements of adult catastrophe.

Childhood and innocence, secrecy, lies and repressed violence are all gently laid bare as once again Michael Frayn powerfully demonstrates that what appears to be happening in front of our eyes often turns out to be something we cannot see at all.


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

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