Van has finished reading…Spies by Michael Frayn

4 Aug

Childhood is a branch line: stations of obliviousness connected by stretches of ever-curving track ahead that disappears into dark tunnels of ignorance. Scary tunnels, until you’ve been through them a few times. There can’t be a single person alive who doesn’t have a memory of a moment when they defiantly claimed they knew or understood something they didn’t. Nobody likes to be found wanting, even a child. The awkwardness is all there. The not-belonging and the desperately wanting to, and of course the not realising that you already do belong, in a wider sense.
It’s really quite a brilliant book. It’s not about plot twists, although with a title like Spies you’d be disappointed if there weren’t at least one or two. In fact the plot proceeds in a very pleasing way, the reader more-or-less aware of what’s likely to be happening and awaiting the proof positive. But that’s exactly the point. We apply our adult eyes along with the protagonist, looking back from a position of worldliness and assessing his obliviousness – his knowing and yet not knowing – and connecting with our own.
The relationship between the young Stephen and Keith, as seen through Stephen’s eyes is pitch-perfect. The finding of place in a social structure, the looming presence of adults outside direct family, even the humour in those childish slips, misunderstandings and fudged connotations inject pathos without sentimentality. If you haven’t read Spies yet you really should make the time. You won’t regret it.


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