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Encyclopedia > Spies (novel)
Spies book cover (paperback)
Author Michael Frayn
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Novel
Publisher Faber & Faber
Publication date 1 April 2002
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 302 pp (hardback edition) & 272 pp (paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-571-21286-7 (hardback edition) & ISBN 0-571-21296-4 (paperback edition)

Spies is a 2002 novel by the British author and playwright Michael Frayn. The story takes place during both World War II and the present day, as narrator Stephen Wheatley returns to the scene of his seemingly ordinary suburban childhood. Stephen is unsure of what he is actually trying to find and, as he walks once-familiar streets he hasn't seen in fifty years, he unfolds a story of childish games eventually colliding cruelly with adult realities. The novel is sometimes studied as part of the UK GCE (A Level) English Literature curriculum. Image File history File links Spies. ... Michael Frayn (born 8 September 1933) is an English playwright and novelist. ... For other uses, see Country (disambiguation). ... The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ... For other uses, see Novel (disambiguation). ... A publisher is a person or entity which engages in the act of publishing. ... Faber and Faber is a celebrated publishing house in the UK, notable in particular for publishing the poetry of T. S. Eliot. ... Hardcover books A hardcover (or hardback or hardbound) is a book bound with rigid protective covers (typically of cardboard covered with cloth, heavy paper, or sometimes leather). ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article may require cleanup. ... ISBN redirects here. ... Michael Frayn (born 8 September 1933) is an English playwright and novelist. ... Combatants Allied powers: China France Great Britain Soviet Union United States and others Axis powers: Germany Italy Japan and others Commanders Chiang Kai-shek Charles de Gaulle Winston Churchill Joseph Stalin Franklin Roosevelt Adolf Hitler Benito Mussolini Hideki Tōjō Casualties Military dead: 17,000,000 Civilian dead: 33,000... The A-level, short for Advanced Level, is a General Certificate of Education qualification, usually taken by students in the two years of further education (after GCSEs). ...


Plot introduction

The story is structured as a bildungsroman, with the central character going on a journey of self-discovery by way of re-analysing his childhood through the eyes of an adult. Frayn is heavily ironic in his treatment of both memory and character, casting light on the instinctual paranoia and hypocritical voyeurism of Britain during the war.[1] A Bildungsroman (IPA: /, German: novel of self-cultivation) is a novelistic form that concentrates on the spiritual, moral, psychological, or social development and growth of the protagonist usually from childhood to maturity. ...

Stephen's Chronology

Stephen was born in Germany as "Stefan Weitzler" in 1933. His mother was English and his father was a German Jew. In 1935 the family moved to England, presumably running away from Nazi persecution; it is here that they adopted their English name, Wheatley. During his childhood living on the Close, he befriended Keith Hayward to whom he looked up: National Socialism redirects here. ...

He was the officer corps in our two-man army. I was the Other Ranks - and grateful to be so.

Away from the terror of war, the two boys embark on an adventure when Keith announces a disconcerting discovery: his mother is - according to him - a "German spy".


Stephen Wheatley

The main character and narrator of the story. Born Stefan Weitzler - the Jewish son of German refugees who came to England in 1935, due fears of the war, where he became Stephen Wheatley. He grew up in a cul-de-sac and was best friends with Keith Hayward, another boy from the cul-de-sac. Though we learn very little of Stephen's later life, we know he married, then divorced sometime later. He then returned to Germany (where he found work translating manuals into English) and remarried a German, having adopting his birth name and had at least two children - a son and daughter (their names not revealed) and he also has grandchildren. The novel begins with him deciding to return to England, where he grew up.

Keith Hayward

Stephen's childhood best friend. He is an only child and as so is over-indulged by his wealthy parents. When Frayn introduces him into the story, he repeats the word 'special' which gives a good idea of Keith's status. Despite being a wealthy boy with a private education, he is in fact very nasty and is extremely unpleasant to Stephen, as Stephen recalls throughout the story.

Mrs. Hayward

Despite being a main character and the focus of the story, she is either known as 'Keith's Mother' or 'Mrs Hayward' thus her first name is never revealed, though her initial is revealed to be an 'R' and she is referred to at one point as 'Bobs'. Stephen and Keith are convinced that she is a German spy, as she disappears alone for long periods of time during the day. At one point, the two boys read her diary and find an 'X' marked in each month which leads them to suspect that this is when she meets the Nazis. Stephen's first descriptions of her make her seem angelic and perfect, but as the truth starts to come to light, this changes. In Mrs. Hayward's desperation to keep her adultery a secret she seems to become dirtied in the process[citation needed]. It is not until the end of the novel that she is seen as human.

Barbara Berrill

A girl, a year older than Stephen and Keith, who provides the text with moments of adolescence and growing up as Stephen and she kiss and smoke cigarettes together. Her main purpose in the novel is to provide the reader with true information - it is she who informs Stephen that Mrs. Hayward has a boyfriend who has been seen during the blackouts. She develops during the text from someone who is "beneath [Stephen's] notice" to someone who provides his first love.

Uncle Peter

This is Keith's Uncle, married to Mrs. Hayward's sister. Throughout the novel he is portrayed to be a true man, away fighting in the war. We learn at the very end that, in fact, hiding in 'The Barns', a place where he can escape the claims of cowardice he would receive if his unwillingness to continue fighting in the war were revealed. The Barns is really the basement of a building destroyed in an air-raid and he survives there on the food that Auntie Dee and later Mrs. Hayward bring to him. It is he who Mrs. Hayward is visiting, and he is secretly in love with her: "it was always her" he says in a confession he makes to Stephen. There are also strong hints that, during his hiding, the two have begun a love affair. At the end, Frayn reveals that he dies after being run over by a train, although he does not reveal what brought Peter on to the railway lines.

Auntie Dee

Mrs. Hayward's younger sister and Uncle Peter's wife. She is aware throughout the novel that her husband is hiding in 'The Barns' but she brings food to him in order for him to survive while Frayn suggests that she is afraid the police are onto her. She asks her sister, Mrs. Hayward, to do it for her, unaware that her husband is in fact in love with her sister. Frayn suggests at the end that Auntie Dee discovers her husband's infidelity and leaves the cul-de-sac. she is distraught by the love affairs her sister and uncle peter (her husband are having)

Critical reactions

Initially, Spies was received well by the literary community, with many critics praising Frayn for his creative and original approach.[2] Indeed once published, Spies went on to win the 2002 Whitbread Novel of the year for achievement in literary excellence. Book of the Year Claire Tomalin, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self Childrens Book Winner: Hilary McKay, Saffy’s Angel Shortlist: Julie Bertagna, Exodus Celia Rees, Sorceress Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines First Novel Winner: Norman Lebrecht, The Song of Names Shortlist: Neil Astley, The End of My Tether Tariq Goddard...

However, contrasting this initial success, a reactionary movement arose after the novel's release, many critics considering that the book had a "contrived and implausible" plot.[3]


  1. ^ Comment
  2. ^ Independent
  3. ^ [http://www.enotes.com/contemporary-literary-criticism/frayn-michael Michael Frayn Criticism (Vol. 176)

See also

Michael Frayn (born 8 September 1933) is an English playwright and novelist. ...

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