Book 51 – Spies

Book – Spies
Author – Michael Frayn
Year – 2002
Genre – Fiction

As mentioned in my last blog, I hit a bit of a mental block as I crawled over the halfway point in The Book Challenge.  For no great reason, I was having a bit of difficulty powering through a book, but finally I have achieved it with Spies.  Although I had some trouble pushing on however, this is not particularly a critisism of the book.

Michael Frayn is mainly famous for his plays – Noises Off and Copenhagen being two of the biggest – and he is someone that I studied as part of my degree.  He also, by sheer coincidence, gave the speech at my graduation, so when I saw a copy of one of his novels at the quite brilliant price of 50p a couple of weeks back I felt that I should give it a go.

It is a strange book, with ‘A Level Text’ written all over it.  An elderly man feels compelled to return to the street where he grew up, and upon arrival he reflects on a major event of his life when he was a child in a slightly rural part of wartime London.  We flit between his visions of the street now – mainly a framing device – and the story of his childhood from his young eyes.

The most interesting thing about this is the way he switches between the old narrator and the young character.  It is all done by interweaving the present tense with the past tense – not too unusual of course – but also the first person with the third.  It must have been a logistical nightmare to work on, but flows seemlessly in the book so that you never question it, and are always aware of who is leading the story.

The problem is that everything within is ever so slightly unsatisfactory.  The characters are pretty much all unlikable, and never ever do what you want them to do, and despite building up a nice bit of tension, everything felt like a bit of a let down by the time you reached the end.  It is a book worth reading for the craft – with the tone of the young Stephen being particularly well handled – but is hardly a story that you would want to spend a lot of time reflecting on.


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