Spies A Novel

Michael Frayn




Trade Paperback

272 Pages


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A New York Times Notable Book

From the celebrated British novelist and playwright Michael Frayn comes this rich novel of childhood, deceit, desire, guilt, innocence, the past, and other universal mysteries. In Spies, one Stephen Wheatley revisits the sidewalks, shops, houses, and fragrant shrubs and flowers of his childhood neighborhood, and in doing so returns to vivid memories and life-changing secrets of growing up in wartime London. As Stephen pieces together his scattered recollections, 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 their neighbors, recording their movements, and ferreting out their secrets. But when Keith reveals a shocking facet of his home life, the boys' game of espionage takes a sinister and unexpected turn, transforming a wife and mother's simple errands into the elements of adult deception, irreversible catastrophe, and domestic violence.

In his sharp yet tender depiction of the boundless imagination and incessant game-playing of childhood, Frayn offers us an exciting world of suspense and intrigue—but it also a world that is human, familiar, ordinary, and real. Lyrically written and sensitively imagined, Spies powerfully demonstrates that what appears to be happening in front of our very eyes often turns out to be something we cannot see at all.


Praise for Spies

"A master of intellectual mystery masquerading as ripping popular entertainment . . . A gorgeous melancholy that shivers the mind."—The New York Times Book Review

"Marvelously effective . . . A novel of extraordinary power and wisdom, a tour de force of humane insight."—The Baltimore Sun

"Bernard Shaw couldn't do it, Henry James couldn't do it, but the ingenious English author Michael Frayn does do it: write novels and plays with equal success. [He] has extended his reach and seriousness while keeping a sprightly intellectuality."—John Updike, The New Yorker

"In Spies, recollections of actual things—the 'disconcerting perfume' of privet hedges in bloom and the flavor of lemon barley water—make Frayn's story so real you can taste it."—Boston Herald

"[Spies] convinces American readers that Frayn, author of some thirteen novels and sixteen plays, is a literary double threat."—The Boston Globe

"In this very English novel, secrets assume an unexpected power and excitement as Frayn reveals that a little of the fascist is buried in every clever child, and that spying can be a soul-destroying game."—Chicago Sun-Times

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

1The third week of June, and there it is again: the same almost embarrassingly familiar breath of sweetness that comes every year about this time. I catch it on the warm evening air as I walk past the well-ordered gardens in my quiet street, and for a moment I'm a child again and everything's before me--all the frightening, half-understood promise of life.It must come from one of the gardens. Which one? I can never trace it. And what is it? It's not like the heartbreaking tender sweetness of the lime blossom, for which this city's known, or the serene summer happiness of the honeysuck
Read the full excerpt


  • Michael Frayn

  • Michael Frayn is the author of ten novels, including the bestselling Headlong, a New York Times Editor’s Choice selection and a Booker Prize finalist, and Spies, which won Britain’s Whitbread Fiction Award. He has written fourteen plays, among them Noises Off and Copenhagen, which won three Tony Awards in 1999. He lives in London.
  • Michael Frayn Eamonn McCabe



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