Winner of the 2002 Whitbread Novel Award
The 2002 Whitbread awards were a family affair for husband and wife Michael
Frayn and Claire Tomalin. Frayn won best novel for Spies
the judges described as "subtle, beautifully rendered, with many different
facets comic, nostalgic, poignant." Claire Tomalin beat out the rest
of the biographies for her book on Samuel Pepys, and went on to win the
grand prize, just pipping her husband at the post. However, while the
Pepys biography certainly got a lot of press, Frayn's gorgeous novel has
been quietly achieving a steady audience with those readers eager for
a complex and gripping story written in spare, elegant prose.
Spies is narrated by Stephen Wheatley, a man in his seventies
whose memory is provoked by a scent. Driven by this memory he revisits
London, recalling the time he spent there as a child during the war
the emotional devastation and lives upset, all of his doing. What begins
with Stephen's friend Keith Hayward announcing that his mother is a German
spy leads to the young boys keeping track of her movements and the reading
of her diary. When the truth behind Mrs. Hayward's mysterious errands
is revealed, Stephen's childhood is irreparably altered. Frayn combines
a coming-of-age narrative with a compelling mystery whose denouement is
truly shocking. Fans of Ian McEwan's Atonement
would be rewarded were they to investigate the work of McEwan's countryman.
Spies is a wonderful place to start. Georgie, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
From the bestselling author of Headlong
, a mesmerizing novel about secrecy, imagination, and a child's game turned deadly earnest
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 images, we are brought back to a quiet, suburan 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.
But when Keith utters six shocking words, the boys' game of espionage takes a sinister and unintended turn. A wife's simple errands and a family's ordinary rituals-once the focus of childish speculation-become the tragic elements of adult catastrophe.
In gripping prose, charged with emotional intensity, Spies reaches into the moral confusion of youth to reveal a reality filled with deceptions and betrayals, where the bonds of friendship, marriage, and family are unravelled by cowardice and erotic desire. Master illusionist Michael Frayn powerfully demonstrates, yet again, that what appears to be happening in front of our eyes often turns out to be something we can't see at all.
"Michael Frayn is a master of the intellectual mystery masquerading as ripping popular entertainment." Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times Book Review
"Spies is as much a work of suspense as it is of saddened reflection. Frayn is a master of the casual surprise, and the surprises here all ring true." Paul Bailey, The Independent
"It is a study of what we think we know and what is real, and also of the difference between what we really know and what we are prepared to admit. It is a dark book, and a sad one" John Lanchester, The New York Review of Books
"As always, Frayn has made a usual subject entirely his own." Jane Gardam, The Spectator
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 boys game of espionage takes a sinister and unintended turn, transforming a wifes 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.
About the Author
is the author of ten novels, including the bestselling Headlong
, which was a New York Times
Editor's Choice selection and a Booker Prize finalist. He has also written thirteen plays, among them Noises Off
, which won three Tony Awards in l999. He lives in London.