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Spies Paperback – 5 May 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 144 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (5 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571268854
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571268856
  • Product Dimensions: 12.5 x 1.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (144 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 8,978 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

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, and reading her diary. Keith's mother does have secrets to conceal but they are not the ones the boys suspect. Frayn skilfully manipulates his plot so that the reader's growing awareness of the truth remains just a few steps beyond Stephen's dawning realisation that he is trespassing on painful and dangerous territory. The only false notes occur in the final chapter when the central revelation (already cleverly signposted) 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 Headlong, Frayn's Booker Prize-shortlisted 1999 novel, more understated in its wit, but it is, in many ways, more compelling.--Nick Rennison --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


''Spies' is a cleverly conceived and intricately executed novel in which different layers of irony are nested like Russian dolls.' -- London Review of Books

''Spies' is too good for the Booker Prize - can there be higher praise?' -- Daily Express

'Beautifully accomplished, richly nostalgic novel about supposed Second World War espionage seen through the eyes of a young boy.' -- Sunday Times

'Frayn has never written more seductively and surely than in this book.' -- Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

'In a recent interview, Frayn, a former journalist, said it was very difficult to explain what a story is. 'Spies' is a near-perfect exemplar.' -- Glasgow Herald

'This is a deeply satisfying account of the everyday torments and confusions experienced by a not especially bright boy at a time of international madness. Frayn has written nothing better.' -- Independent

'This is a lovingly conceived, handsomely detailed novel . . . never less than witty, ingenious and a pleasure to read.' -- Guardian --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I have been comprehensively bowled over by Spies. I have never seen the dilemmas, confusions, excitements, insights, and incomprehensions of childhood better, more truthfully, done; and its balance of comedy and anguish - indeed the blend of comedy and anguish - is handled with exceptional delicacy. The fun is real fun, but it isn't allowed to cheapen or lessen Stephen's anxieties, fears, sense of his own unworthiness. (As an old man, he may have lost two of those, but not the third, I think.) All that would be enough to make this an exceptionally fine and unusual novel.
But Frayn also presents an adult story, imperceptibly humming in the background almost at the start, then thrumming more and more audibly as he brings it to the fore. When finally it declares itself openly, fortissimo and on centre-stage, one realizes that it has (and how it has) been at the centre of the story from the outset, though always - even at the climax - we get it through the consciousness of the boy.
The presentation of the adult story is an astonishing technical feat. Frayn shows superlative skill in the way he paces it - not just the rate at which the story comes forward, but the steps it takes to get there: the thriller-like excitement as it is gradually revealed, the discipline with which the revelation comes entirely through the experience of the boy Stephen, with nothing leaking around the edges, the growing revelation (starting long before we know what the story really is) of its sadness. It is an astonishing achievement.
The central adult story is heart-breaking. One is also sad for others, including the boy Keith and his poor limited frightened frightening father.
Frayn is never sentimental.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is 99 percent pot boiling window dressing with endless references to the smell of privet and one percent tediously spun out plot. Now i've finished and put it down and forgotten it, I just wish I'd spent my time reading something a bit more worthwhile. All the guff on the cover about the curiously confusing magical world of childhood - if you want a proper account of that time read Adam Thorpe or even Alain Fournier's heavyweight Grand Meaulnes. Here's the basic plot; a rather insecure young boy in the shadow of domineering friend. Anxious to please he gets sucked into an unhappy misunderstanding that eventually all gets clarified in the last two pages, by which time I couldn't have cared less.

This is harsh, the writing was OK in a sort of churn it out sort of way. It just gets on my nerves when people rave about such mediocre stuff when theres so much better around. People don't have to write just for the sake of filling up shelf space do they? Now I feel guilty and hate myself for saying all these nasty things.
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By Susie B TOP 100 REVIEWER on 7 Jun. 2015
Format: Paperback
Set mostly during the Second World War, Michael Frayn's 'Spies' centres on schoolboy Stephen Wheatley, who lives with his mother, father and older brother in the Close, a quiet cul-de-sac, where most of the houses sit in their tidy front gardens, behind neatly trimmed hedges. Stephen's family, we soon learn, is not considered entirely 'acceptable' to the more affluent and respectable residents of the Close, and Stephen, with his scruffy school uniform and old tennis shoes, is surprised when Keith Hayward, with his smart private school uniform and polished tan sandals, seems keen for Stephen to be his friend. During the summer holidays, Stephen and Keith play together at Keith's immaculate home, watched over by Keith's elegant and attractive mother who, freed from housework by her cleaning lady, spends her days reading books, resting in her room and visiting her younger sister who lives a few doors down the street. However, although Stephen may be in awe of Mr and Mrs Hayward, often wondering why they allow Keith to be friendly with him, deep down he instinctively knows that the reason Keith's parents tolerate him is because Keith is an only child who doesn't make friends easily - and he also knows that the reason Keith wants Stephen as a friend is because he is happy to let Keith take the lead in all their games together and never challenges him. And this arrangement works well, until the day that Keith makes the shocking announcement that the Germans have infiltrated his family and his mother is actually a German agent, and Stephen makes the decision to help Keith to spy on his mother's movements in and around the Close.Read more ›
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read this when it came out in paperback around 2003, then again for a Guardian book club some ten years later, and dug it out last month for a third read after listening to the audio book, beautifully read by Martin Jarvis, during a long plane journey.

This novel gets better with each reading. It is full of symbolism, metaphor and bitter irony. The first-person narration is a clever device because he’s an unreliable narrator, being the voice of the child version of the now elderly central character, raking through his memory and childish perceptions of a significant summer in his childhood, memory triggered by a particular scent. The child’s inexperience makes him unable to fully comprehend either what’s really going on or his own role in the unfolding tragedy. The grown-up reader is left to fill in the blanks, not always easily, and revise sensitive young Stephen’s assumptions and conclusions as he struggles to make sense of what is beyond his emotional maturity. We ache for the child’s confusion, naiveté and developing guilt, as well as for the pain in the lives of Stephen’s friend and his family.

A beautiful, poignant coming of age story – not unlike (as other reviewers have observed) 'Whistle Down the Wind' and 'Atonement'.
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