The Scent of Spies


“The third week of June, and there it is again: the same almost embarrassingly familiar breath of sweetness that comes every year about this time. I catch it on the warm evening air as I walk past the well-ordered gardens in my quiet street, and for a moment I’m a child again and everything’s before me – all the frightening, half-understood promise of life.”

“Spies” by Michael Frayn is one of those books that lurk on the TBRBOH (to be read by other half ) pile. TOH spends a large part of his day travelling on public transport and so consumes vast amounts of the written word during hiis progress. Our reading tastes hardly ever overlap, the works of Brian Moore being one notable exception.

The one-word title “Spies” coupled with “Germans” and “infiltrated on the back-cover blurb led me to believe that this book’s rightful place was on the “his” rather than the “her” TBR pile. How wrong could I be. The blogosphere has been rumbling with mention of this book recently with one much-respected blogger threatening to read this in the next few days. So realising that I was probably missing out on a good thing I picked up my forked stick and went book-divining around the book stashes. Having a dim memory that the cover was green I set out on the trail of this book determined to discover its secret.

The writing is deceptively simple. Once we have moved from the adult world of the narrator to his child self we could be forgiven for assuming that we were now in an Emil and The Detectives or a Nancy Drew mystery. For half the book we remain in this world until almost imperceptively the emphasis shifts and our eyes are opened. With the advantage of age our suspicions are well ahead of our child protagonist but this does not shield us from the anguish that we will feel as intently as he as our initial suppositions are overturned.

To say anymore would be to run the risk of publishing too many spoilers, so just take my words of advice. As well as avoiding the pitfall of judging a book by its cover be sure not to judge a book by its title.


3 Responses to “The Scent of Spies”

  1. Harriet Says:

    I read this a few years ago and loved it. Not sure why it is being picked up now but happy you and others have liked it too.

  2. Alice C Says:

    It is the best book that Michael Frayn has written. I also love Towards the End of the Morning which is very amusing.

  3. Alice C Says:

    Hello Ruth,
    I am almost tempted to jump in the car and go back just to see the Gascoigne Slurry Store – my journey to Cornwall has been enriched – thank you!

    I am not sure if you are familiar with my blog but I wrote about Michael Frayn some time ago – it might amuse you.

    p.s. sorry to post this as a comment – I couldn’t find an email address

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