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Spies Audio CD – Audiobook, Mar 2004


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Product Details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Chivers Audio Books (March 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0754094782
  • ISBN-13: 978-0754094784
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 18.2 x 4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 340 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)

Product Description

From Amazon

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 the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

By the author of the bestselling Booker Prize finalist Headlong, this dark, nostalgic and bittersweet parable evokes the childhood escapades of an isolated and hapless young boy caught up in the uncertainties of wartime London in the early 1940s, just after the horrors of the Luftwaffe blitz. Stephen Wheatley, now a grandfather living abroad, is drawn back to London to revisit his boyhood home, to deal with the complexities and eventual tragedy engendered by what seemed a harmless game of spy when he was just a schoolboy during WWII. His best friend at the time was Keith Hayward, the bright son of rather standoffish parents; Keith and Stephen embark on a childish adventure after Keith announces that his British mother is a German spy. The murky plot follows their frustrations as they try to shadow Keith's mum as she goes through the mundane ritual of stopping by her sister's house with letters and a shopping basket, only to disappear into the neighboring streets. Discovering at last that she takes a route through the culvert beneath the railroad and leaves letters in a box hidden on the other side, they eventually learn that she sometimes meets a tattered, bearded tramp hiding in a bombed-out cellar. When Keith's mum finally realizes they have found her out, she secretly seeks Stephen's loyalty, making him complicit. Thrust into a role far beyond his years, but helpless to refuse, he is overwhelmed. As it plays out to a surprising denouement, this enigmatic melodrama will keep readers' attention firmly in hand. (Apr. 3)Forecast: Fans of Headlong may miss that novel's dark comedy, but those who appreciate Frayn for the rigorous intelligence of his fiction will find him in fine form here.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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3.9 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
A man called Stephen travels down memory lane, remembering his childhood in London during the war. He and his friend, Keith, lived out many adventures, their imaginations coming alive. Upon his friend's words that his friend's mother was a German spy, the two boys set out to spy on her. What Stephen discovers will change the rest of his life. The book has a slow start. Many times I doubted that I would like the book because it seemed too slow and dull, however, by the end, I was glad I stuck with it. It's a touching story about the innocence of a child who is put into a situation no child belonged in. His fear and confusion was real throughout the book, and perhaps the most honest account of someone in his shoes. He was an ordinary boy in extraordinary circumstances. The main character wasn't a child "hero" like so often in books these days starring children. This book isn't about a boy saving the day. It is more a tragic story. The book did not grab me the way other books sometimes do. It was a bit vague and confusing at times. However, overall, it was a good read and would be worthy of discussion in any book group.
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Format: Paperback
First of all: Frayn is a good writer. Best known as a playwright, this is not a play trying to be a novel-- there is dialogue, yes, but also lots of description and atmosphere. I applaud him for knowing which medium this story demanded, and for his versatility and skills.
The six immortal words that change Stephen's life are his best friend Keith's "My mother is a German spy."
Of course, any adult reader doubts that right away, but Keith is so odd and creepy that as he and Stephen (the narrator) set to trailing his mother there is an awful sense of tension and looming tragedy.
It's impossible not to think of L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between, if you've read it-- in that book likewise a man remembers being a child engaging in a mystery that was not what it seems. That book really does amount to heartbreak and inevitable tragedy. Partly that's because the adult reader understands what is going on better than the narrator.
In Frayn's novel, the older narrator has barely more insight than he did as a child-- and there's an irritating sense that things are being deliberately held back from the reader. The revelations, when we finally get to them, are not satisfying enough for me.
As a portrait of tension, suspicion and wartime paranoia, along with the awkwardness of adolescent friendships and loyalties, Frayn succeeds. But as a mystery, it's frustrating...the tension is both too much and not enough. The reader knows that whatever theory the boys come up with is wrong, and it takes too long to see that there is a mystery at all... so it never grabbed me with its urgency.
If you read it for the mood and not for the story, it is well written and worthwhile... for me it never really gelled.
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By J. F Malysiak on June 12 2003
Format: Paperback
I have to admit, I almost gave up on this book ninety pages in. For whatever reason, it just wasn't holding my interest. The story was only vaguely interesting and it went along at a rather mundane pace. But then, just when I thought I'd given up, something happened. The story started coming together, the characters and setting grew on me, and I discovered much to my pleasant surprise that I couldn't put it down. I raced to finish it and had to force myself not to glance down to the bottom of the next page to find out what was coming next.
This is a story of secrets and lies set in a tiny English village in the heart of World War Two. An innocent child's game of "spies" turns into an ugly and inevitably tragic tale of wartime recriminations and unrequited love with an ending to rival the surprising and equally devastating denouement of Ian McEwan's "Atonement."
Frayn's brilliance is subtle and exists mostly within the seemingly innocent yet insightful observations of his child narrator, Stephen Wheatley, through whose eyes the reader experiences the story.
I'm glad I persevered!
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Format: Paperback
Michael Frayn's "Spies", the 2002 Whitbread Prize winner, is a quintessentially English novel that recalls L P Hartley's classic "The Go Between". Both novels begin with an old man indulging in the queasily pleasurable habit of visiting the past when as a young boy he was innocent of the tragedy his childish detective games would set in motion for the adults and end with a stark recognition that resonates with an indescribable pain we feel for the ruined lives they have caused. The rush of familiar smells and the recollection of other childish secrets like a misspelled password trigger off a flood of memories for the adult Stephen Wheatley. These in turn become the catalyst for unravelling the secrets that underlie the mystery that consumed the boy Stephen and his playmate Keith one fateful summer.
Frayn flits skilfully between past to present but when we enter the world of the boy Stephen, we become child observers too. We don't have a head start in our understanding of what is happening among the adults because our senses are his. Even Keith's mother - like all mothers - doesn't have a name. The suspicious routines that preoccupy Keith's mother - her constant shuttling between home and her sister's or the post office, and her mysterious disappearance from sight every time she turns the corner - is shrouded in a mystery that deepens with vague hints of cruelty and abuse that only the adult Stephen is able to discern. Indeed, the relationship between Stephen and Keith is hardly a friendship, more an emblem of their class differences, which allow the middle class Keith to play leader to the socially inferior Stephen. In the same way, Keith's parents exude a distance and coolness that is slightly unnerving.
Frayn's characterisation is flawless.
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