Approaching Willesden Junction
Photo by LHOON used under a Creative Commons license.

Michael Frayn, Spies (Metropolitan Books, 2002).
A coming-of-age story set in London during World War II. Stephen Wheatley, an old man as he starts to recount things at the outset, was a young boy then, living on a block of new housing near a train station on the outskirts of town. As events unfold — and I am being vague about what happens to avoid giving things away — Stephen comes to understand that there are secrets behind the new facades on his street, and over in the rural tracts on the other side of the tracks. Frayn deftly, gradually unpacks these secrets.

Here a bio of Frayn and here is Wikipedia’s entry on him. Nicholas Wroe profiled Frayn in 1999 for The Guardian. Google BookSearch gives a preview. Claire Armistead interviewed Frayn for The Guardian. Here are reviews, but be careful — they may give away too much.  The Complete Review says it’s hard to be truly enthusiastic about the book.  They also gather lots of links.  Robert Weibezahl says Frayn is a master of the literary slight of hand.  Kevin Holtsberry says Frayn creates tension well. Henrietta Ghattas says the novel paints a dreamlike world. Phillip Tomasso III was reminded of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian) sees a classic English theme. Michiko Kakutani (The New York Times) says the clockwork mechanism of the plot fails to engage. Jennifer Schuessler (The New York Times) says some of the most beautiful passages evoke the landscape of the town. Adam Mars-Jones (The Observer) sees innocence with a vengeance. Alan in Belfast found it quite an irritating book. Eli Weintraub calls it a sensory delight. Christopher Caldwell and Erik Tarloff read it together at Slate. Anne calls it wonderful.

Buy it at