Shucks Mahoney’s #CBRV Review #29: Spies by Michael Frayn

I was going for an espionage theme at the beginning of this month, which has currently been derailed, but it was an opportunity to finally lash into this corker of a novel. After seeing Copenhagen in my feckless youth and being dazzled by it, I’ve admired and fancied Frayn for his wordcraft, smarts, and great sense of humour. I must’ve owned at least two copies of this in the last ten years. But I was apprehensive of it – something sinister lay behind that hedge on the front cover, and perhaps I wasn’t smart enough to appreciate it? It was released in 2002, when I was still trying to get a handle on the confusing world of ‘grown up’ fiction. Ten (!) years later I took it on a weekend holiday away, to see if we could get in a dirty fling overseas.

I bloody loved it. It’s a book about childhood that nails so much that’s right about the state of being young, and those half-true stories that seem to be everywhere, in the very air, and the powers of imagination. It also captures that cruelty of children, chillingly. One moment had me gasp out loud, then put the book down to recover.

One of the review quotes in the front compares it positively with The Go-Between, which is my pick for the most perfectly realised novel ever, and I’d co-sign that. They both cover some similar ground – the lurch from child to adult, secrets half-revealed, the black holes of our memories. A wonderful, potent story.