Dan Sandman

18: Spies by Michael Frayn

In Books, Fiction, Spy on 03/05/2013 at 12:00 pm

I live in a wealthy, very nice, part of North London called Primrose Hill with my mother and father. We’ve never been rich, our house is in a row of isolated council housing, but we live in a posh area. Near my parent’s house, on a road called Regents Park Road near the railway bridge – where, if you peer over, you can see the railway line to London Euston – there sits an upmarket charity shop called Mary’s Living and Giving Shop. It’s well stocked with second-hand books and that’s were I found Spies by Michael Frayn.

Spies by Michael Frayn

Born in 1933, Michael Frayn writes critically acclaimed and commercially successful plays and novels. He started writing published work, as a newspaper journalist, at about the age of thirty and went on to release his début novel The Tin Men in 1965. His second most recent book Spies, written in 2003, was my first encounter with Frayn’s work. It’s currently being studied by A-Level English students in the UK.

Spies is a nostalgic book, set in wartime Britain, about childhood. The book explores the power and fragility of remembered experience; it uses memory as a looking glass to peer into a man’s childhood; it creates a multi-layered narrative experienced through the eyes of nostalgia. As the novel progresses, the reader begins to see the world from a child’s perspective as well as – or rather – from the perspective of an adult looking back on childhood. In this book, place is important because place can evoke memory and help to solve the unsolved mysteries of the past. By skilfully showing sensitivity towards memory, Frayn encourages the reader to play the detective attempting to solve what might have happened in the protagonist’s past.

I’d highly recommend this book to friends who like books and I’d highly recommend visiting charity shops in posh areas where wealthy people are busily giving away nice things like books. My top suggestions in London are Oxfam Books on Marylebone High Street, the British Heart Foundation in Hampstead, and my local Mary’s Living and Giving Shop on Regents Park Road. For me, charity-shop-book-hunting is fun, rewarding and often leads to an exciting discovery.

  1. I really enjoyed Spies too – the subtlety of the story was very well done. I also love London bookshops! The Oxfam on Bloomsbury Street has a good selection.

    • I agree, Spies has been one of my favourite books to write about, it was very well done. Its subtle undercurrents encouraged me to think thoughtfully.

      Thanks for the bookshop tip-off too. I’ll be sure to pay it a visit next time I’m in the West End. If I do go to buy a book there, you’ll be likely to read about it here.

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