Best 2002 Adventures (10)
January 20, 2021
One in a series of 10 posts identifying Josh Glenn’s favorite 2002 adventure novels.
Michael Frayn’s psychological thriller Spies.
When he returns to the Close, the London cul-de-sac where he’d grown up during WWII, the scent of a privet hedge reminds the now-elderly Stephen of a curious episode from his youth… when Keith, a lonely child from a better school, bullied him into playing Spies, a game of make-believe. Keith’s own mother, a charming but mysterious woman, is their target; where does she vanish to, each day? The incomprehensible world of adults becomes their playground, as the two misfit boys engage in ever-riskier acts of surveillance. Writing this on the day after the Capitol Building was stormed by Trump supporters — who wore semi-frightening, semi-funny costumes, and who didn’t seem to quite know what to do with themselves — I realize that this book explores what happens when make-believe games become too absorbing, because they offer compelling certainties attractive to those whose anxieties are strong and sense of self weak. The narrative switches back and forth between Stephen and Keith’s adventures and the musings of grown-up Stephen, who wonders how he could have could have failed to see the tragic truth of what was happening.
Fun facts: Spies won the 2002 Whitbread Novel of the year for achievement in literary excellence; and it was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.
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