Book reviews, Pullitzer, Booker, Costa and Children's Book reviews
Book reviews, Pullitzer, Booker, Costa and Children's Book reviews
Prize Winning Fiction
Prize Winning Fiction

2002 Costa Winner

Spies by Michael Frayn


Publisher: Faber & Faber

Length: 240 pages

About: Young boys discover spies at home

Style: Mixture of narrative and 1st person.

Where: England (London)

When: 2001 and 1940s



Publisher’s synopsis:

In the quiet cul-de-sac where Keith and Stephen live the only immediate signs of the Second World War are the blackout at night and a single random bombsite. But the two boys start to suspect that all is not what it seems when one day Keith announces a disconcerting discovery: the Germans have infiltrated his own family. And when the secret underground world they have dreamed up emerges from the shadows they find themselves engulfed in mysteries far deeper and more painful than they had bargained for.



As soon as I get back from school I run straight to the lookout and start keeping watch on the Hayward’s house. But Keith has scarcely joined me before I have to go home for tea, and scarcely have I got back from my tea and he from his before we both have to go home again to do our homework, to eat our supper,to go to bed. It’s just as I’d foreseen. We have a task of national importance to perform, and we’re endlessly frustrated by all the petty demands of life.





'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 ... Frayn's novel excels.'

John Updike, New Yorker


Not so good

Spies works as a mystery, as a war story and as a coming-of-age narrative. The only thing it can't quite be, despite its author's intellectual background, is a work of philosophy. There are some slightly strained passages, ponderings with a whiff of the seminar, rather too methodical for the context: 'I'm not sure, now the question's been raised, if I really understand even what it means to understand something.'

The Observer Adam Mars Jones 10th February 2002 click here for full review


About the author

Frayn was born on 8 September 1933 to a deaf asbestos salesman in Mill Hill,a suburb of London, grew up in Ewell, Surrey, and was educated at Kingston Grammar School.


Following two years of National Service, during which he learned Russian at the Joint Services School for Linguists, Frayn read Moral Sciences (Philosophy) at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, graduating in 1957. He then worked as a reporter and columnist for The Guardian and The Observer, where he established a reputation as a satirist and comic writer, and began publishing his plays and novels.


He is best known as the author of the farce Noises Off and the dramas Copenhagen and Democracy. His novels, such as Towards the End of the Morning, Headlong and Spies, have also been critical and commercial successes, making him one of the handful of writers in the English language to succeed in both drama and prose fiction. His works often raise philosophical questions in a humorous context. Frayn's wife is Claire Tomalin, the biographer and literary journalist.


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Age guide: 12






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2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner

It's a massive day in arts and journalism because the 100th annual Pulitzer Prize winners were just announced, and there's a big surprise. 2015's best artistic and nonfiction writing across 21 categories were recognized during a ceremony Monday afternoon at Columbia University in New York City. The first Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Hebert Bayward Swope, a reporter for The New York World, in 1916. (And if you're as big a fan of Newsies as I am, that paper should ring a bell, but try to think of it more positively.)

The major prize for book nerds, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction went to The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press), a legitimate surprise, if you've been paying attention to the book nerd and industry buzz. The feeling around the prize in the last few months would have you putting all your hard-earned cash down on A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara to take home the award, but that's why you should never gamble. Viet Thanh Nguyen is no less deserving, and moreover, it's his debut novel, which makes it such a wonderful win.

Extract from New York Times to view full article...

Click here


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