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  • Spies
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars144
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 8 January 2015
Good product.
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on 12 September 2010
I have read this book over the past couple of days as we are studying it for part of the A level English Literature course, and I waited until I had finished it before I could make any judgement. And now I have, here goes...

For the most part when reading this book, I found I was unable to physically stop reading. Not because it was actually that gripping, but because I was hoping from the innermost corner of my heart that something was actually going to happen. No, really. For the first hundred pages, nothing much happens; they're just filled with descriptions of the setting of the story, and details about the residents of the setting. The descriptions themselves are very well crafted but get more and more wearing as the story continues. When something does actually happen after the initial mountain of dull descriptions has been overcome, the continuation of heavily describing EVERYTHING gets really tiresome and seriously interrupts the flow of the plot.

And I thought Dickens's writing was convoluted!

It's fair to say that the plot itself could have been written in something as short as 50 pages, if Frayn had cut out all the pointless description. Equally, a film of this book would be infinitely better than the book itself in many ways, as the clever plot could be portrayed in a much more concise and entertaining manner. I keep getting the feeling that this book has been made long for the sake of being long: that Frayn had initially written it and then rewrote it adding in pointless paragraphs to fulfil some sort of requirement in order to get it published.

Another thing I really don't like about it is the fact that the protagonist keeps flitting back to his childhood, for this is where the story is set. This is all very well, but there is no need to keep switching between present day and past for the start of every chapter. It SERIOUSLY interrupts the flow.

Not to mention the whole thing is written in the present tense, which makes me want to slit my wrists repeatedly with Keith's dad's bayonet...

In terms of star rating, the plot alone would get 4 stars, but the frankly TERRIBLE style gets zero.

I think even I, a 16 year old student, could do a better job. Thanks for the recommendation, Whitbread.
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on 5 March 2016
A confusing and difficult read.
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on 27 January 2015
A good read.
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on 9 May 2015
I think I read this at the wrong time. I bought it when it came out but it didn't ring any bells with me. Frayn's limpid blue prose - probably honed on The Guardian - didn't really do it for me. I think it was published at the wrong time, at the height of the Blair administration and it really didn't tick many boxes.
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on 2 February 2009
Spies is a short nostalgic novel concerned with a boy's attempt to understand the adult world at a time when adults were doing their best to destroy it. Stephen Wheatley, now elderly, returns to the suburban close where he grew up to reminisce over his young days there during the Second World War.
Stephen is a highly suggestible boy and once his best friend, the snobbish and spiteful Keith Hayward, has declared that one of his family is a German spy, imaginations move up a gear. Everyone and everything becomes suspect as they spy on their families and neighbours from their `secret' hideout. However, their daily reality of home and school keeps impinging on their surveillance. The surprise ending confirms, however, that things were not as they seemed.
The real success of this book is in its portrayal of children and adults as existing in mutually incomprehensible worlds. I would like to say that this book would best appeal to imaginative adolescents, except of course today adolescents don't have imagination. They stay indoors and play Grand Theft Auto or smoke ganja with their friends. So instead I recommend it to adults who remember a time when they used to have an imagination because lack of information forced them to do so. Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.
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on 17 May 2006
I have been studying this book for my AS level english too and I have to admit, on the first read Spies seemed dull and a little confusing to be honest!(This may be due to my lack of concentration or my horror at being told to read a book rather than choosing to read it) However that said, Spies has in fact, turned out to be the only book I've ever read which has got much more interesting through studying it. Usually I find that doing lesson after lesson on the same book leaves me despising something i actually quite liked in the beginning, but with Spies there are so many layers to the novel it is worth the study. Frayns ability to describe, with such honesty the process of growing up and losing a childlike naivety is (i hate to say it) amazing. Although the plot is not hugely complex or riveting for that matter, it is the characters that you become more interested in - how Stephen in paticular reacts to his 'changing' world. You then realsise that it is not Stephens world that is changing but it is Stephen himself. Pure brilliance really. Anyway enough 'bigging Frayn up' i have to admit the beauty of the Novel didnt stop me from colouring the picture of Frayn on the back of the book pink and adding a large tashe. I also managed to get my book signed by frayn (or should i say a class mate)which is, i think, something to be proud of. Ahem.

Jokes aside Spies is a really good book but i would recommend you dont take it on holiday as it isnt exactly what i'd call 'light' reading.
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on 14 August 2013
Having heard this book raved about on Radio 4 programme A Good Read, (usually a pretty good
barometer of worthwhile books), I was looking forward to a different perspective on war time issues. This time from a childs eye view about the intrigue generated in society when it is
at war. How disappointing to find that the story was not about a boy finding out a neighbour
is possibly a spy for the enemy, but about his imagining things that could be going on.
Its repetitive, and the main young character frequently is unable to say anything in the situations he gets into - so no interesting dialogue, or interactions. There really is no story and the language thats meant to be of the times doesn't even seem believable.
Having been led to believe this was some kind of masterpiece, its actually insubstantial and
uninteresting I doubt that I would be bothering to pick up a Michael Frayn book again.
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on 6 July 2007
This i found was a great read fulled with imagination and the whole image of being young once again. A brilliantly compsrised story that engages you to read more. I had to read this for AS levels and really enjoyed it. The only negative point about this book i would make is that i found the end wasn't propperly resolved. Apart from that a great read.
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on 27 January 2006
I am currently studying 'Spies' for my AS Level English Literature course; the only thing which has brightened up my lessons has been crossing out the 'S' on the front cover with a fat black marker pen, and giggling at the resulting 'pies'.
That sounds very immature. It is very immature! But while older readers might enjoy this trip down the dullest memory lane in literary history, I, along with my classmates, am simply not enjoying this overly wordy and ultimately pretentious attempt to describe privet hedge in as many words as possible. The blurb describes 'Spies' as humourous - I failed to see the joke.
This is by no means a poorly written book. Frayn has crafted the plot well... it's just that the story has few surprises to offer those expecting the dramatic suspense the synopsis leads us to believe we're being treated to. It is definitely not the exciting, gripping read that I anticipated.
I would definitely not recommend this novel to anybody of my age.
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