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The Spy Game [Paperback]

Georgina Harding
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
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Book Description

1 Mar 2010
On a freezing January morning in 1961, eight-year-old Anna's mother disappears into the fog. That same morning, a spy case breaks in the news. Obsessed by stories of espionage, Anna's brother Peter begins to construct a theory that their mother, a refugee from eastern Germany, was an undercover spy and might even still be alive. As life returns to normal, Anna struggles to sort fact from fantasy. Did her mother have a secret life? And how do you know who a person was once she is dead?

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (1 Mar 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408801000
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408801000
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 313,982 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'It is the calm quietness of her writing that is so appealing - she lays an image down so gently that it floats in the mind long after' Margaret Forster 'Harding skilfully weaves together history, memory and imagination in this haunting and beautifully written novel about how, chameleon-like, we construct our own identities' Daily Mail 'Elegant and intelligent ... Should confirm her reputation as a writer of unusual and persuasive talent' Scotsman 'Many writers, from Harper Lee to Suzanne Berne, have explored children's skewed view of the adult world. Georgina Harding has equalled their take ... Elegant ... Lucid, seamless' Independent on Sunday


`Harding skilfully weaves together history, memory and imagination in this haunting and beautifully written novel' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
By purpleheart TOP 100 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
`Fog that morning, a freezing fog; the flagstones dark and slippery outside the door.'

Anna, the narrator, remembers a `Monday in January during the Cold War'. She remembers `a sting in the air that touched closer than the kiss she gave me, which was no more than a brush of breath and powdered cheek' as she says good bye to her mother for the last time.

Georgina Harding's writing is perfect in its evocation of the feeling of the cold war years. The first section settles into the time after their mother's death; others are damaged in the post war years. Anna's best friend Susan has parents who were interned in a Japanese POW camp. Her music teacher escaped from Germany and the concentration camps. In the midst of the family tragedy Peter is sent off to boarding school. The children are considered too young to go to the funeral and Peter becomes convinced that his mother was a spy, bound up in the Portland affair which surfaced at the same time.

We recently had William Boyd's Restless where the narrator finds that her mother was in intelligence during the war. In this novel Peter and Anna play the 'Spy Game' as children, collecting evidence on their mother, fueled by the wish for her to be alive somewhere, even if not with them.

And then in the last section Anna, now past fifty investigates the mystery about their mother and finds all is not straightforward...

I thought Georgina Harding has done a masterly job with this novel. It is poignant in its exploration of loss, of a child's view of complex events and of the family's relationships. I found the story of Mrs Cahn, the piano teacher particularly moving.

A fine and gripping novel.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Do you really know your mother? 23 May 2009
By Annabel Gaskell VINE VOICE
The direct gaze of the woman sipping a cup of tea on the dustjacket of the UK hardback, really caught my eye - a spendid cover and evocative title too. Reading the blurb, expected an espionage story straight out of John Le Carre, but this thoughtful and slow-burning novel is something completely different.

Set in the post-war years of the Cold War, Anna's mother goes out in the car in the fog, and she never sees her again. The same day, a spy case breaks in the news, and this leads Anna's brother Peter to wonder if she was a sleeper, a spy in deep-cover waiting to be called into action. He can't believe she died in a car accident - he's sure she's alive somewhere with a different identity.

Their mother was a refugee from eastern Germany - with no family left - that's all they know about her; their rather distant father prefers to disappear into his garden. This allows Peter to obsess about an alter ego for her - who she may have been meeting, what she may have been involved in. Anna is confused and feels her mother's loss strongly, but goes along with her brother's game. Eventually Peter goes off to boarding school, but he's still haunted by his imaginings. The children grow up, grow apart and start families of their own. When Anna's father dies, she feels a need for closure with her mother too, and plans to visit Konigsberg where she was born ...

This profound and subtle novel explores loss and letting go. You feel a little of what it was like to be a 'German' or Eastern European in England after the war, that slight strangeness and not quite fitting in, that led Peter's imagination into overload. Beautifully written, it takes its time getting to its conclusion, concentrating on the motherless siblings and how it affects their lives.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this wonderful book 21 May 2009
This is an evocative, perceptive and sensitive novel which deserves to be put forward for some major prizes. The author reminds us of the powerlessness of children and the way they can misinterpret and draw conclusions which are often far from the truth because of their lack of experience and context. Childhood bereavement is at the centre of the story which is set in postwar Britain. Her writing is wonderful.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Spy Game 13 April 2013
By Keen Reader TOP 100 REVIEWER
I thoroughly enjoyed The Solitude of Thomas Cave by this same author, so was keen to read this book, the premise of which sounded extremely interesting.

In January 1961, Anna's mother drives out of the driveway to head to an appointment in Oxford, and never comes home. Anna, only eight years old, accepts that her mother has died, and life goes on, in the quiet house with her father and brother who is often away at school. She has music lessons, from a woman who has escaped from the horrors of Europe in the War, and who lost all her family. She too has a sadness that Anna feels. Anna's brother, older than her, believes that their mother didn't die at all; but that there was something more sinister.

And so we read of Anna's childhood, her brother's growing into a sullen and suspicious young man, and her father, sad and somewhat distantly going through his life. And overlaid with this is Anna as an adult, jogged by her father's death into investigating further where her mother may have come from, and what the war may have meant to her and her life before meeting her husband in 1947.

This is a very introspective book, where we learn of life from the perspective only of Anna; her eight year old self and the few years following, and then her quest as an adult. We glimpse Peter, her brother who has grown up to have a life far away and who seems, as we read through the novel to have been the most like their mother. Anna's sensitiveness is more that of her father, and they both feel things deeply.

This is a wonderful story; a story of what was, what might have been, and what we could find if only we knew the right questions.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars "Icicles hang before gaping windows like black-market diamante..."
This wasn’t a book I couldn’t put down, but it’s pace slowed me down and made for some very good reading just the same. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Eileen Shaw
5.0 out of 5 stars An enthralling story
Set during the Cold War, this story tells of two children who try to come to terms with the grief of losing their mother. Read more
Published 11 months ago by F. Lane
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Writer.
I don't know why Georgina Harding isn't better known and more highly rated. She writes with awareness, compassion and intelligence. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Pedro
3.0 out of 5 stars A very unusual book
A beautifully written book about two children whose mother disappeared one foggy day and how it affected the rest of their lives. Read more
Published 16 months ago by T.H OFARRELL
5.0 out of 5 stars Interestin, moving
This was an extremely tense novel, that has me absorbed from beginning to end. Puts me in mind of To Kill A Mockingbird in so much as it's a child's view of an adult world.
Published 17 months ago by A. Parks
4.0 out of 5 stars Haunting
I read this after meeting the author at a book reading. I will now read her latest novel "The Painter of Silence" as I enjoy her skilful writing. Read more
Published on 2 July 2012 by T. E. H
2.0 out of 5 stars Book spoilt by spelling mistakes in kindle edition
i love my kindle but seriously who checks the electronic edition -- the spelling mistakes were rife --- instead of capital Is there were 1s! Read more
Published on 11 May 2012 by R. Webb
4.0 out of 5 stars Shadows of the Past
A curiously haunting novel about mourning and memory, and about how the borders between fantasy and reality can often blur in a troubled mind. Read more
Published on 30 Mar 2012 by Kate Hopkins
5.0 out of 5 stars Mysterious and beautifully written
Having read Harding's `Solitude of Thomas Cave' I was at once impressed and drawn in by her exquisite style of writing I came to read the `Spy Game. Read more
Published on 8 July 2010 by r.m.piper
4.0 out of 5 stars Coolness and mystery down the generations
Georgine Harding is definitely a precise and careful writer to watch.

She covers a similar territory to both Spies (Michael Frayn)and Restless (William Boyd) Frayn's... Read more
Published on 18 Nov 2009 by Lady Fancifull
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