Spies by Michael Frayn #ThrowbackThursday

I’m borrowing the #ThrowbackThursday meme from It’s Book Talk

to share a book I read several years ago.

 Spies

Blurb

 A mesmerizing novel about secrecy, imagination, and a child’s game turned deadly earnest

The sudden trace of a disturbing, forgotten aroma compels Stephen Wheatley to return to the site of a dimly remembered but troubling childhood summer in wartime London. As he pieces together his scattered images, we are brought back to a quiet, suburan street where two boys, Keith and his sidekick-Stephen-are engaged in their own version of the war effort: spying on the neighbors, recording their movements, ferreting out their secrets.

But when Keith utters six shocking words, the boys’ game of espionage takes a sinister and unintended turn. A wife’s simple errands and a family’s ordinary rituals-once the focus of childish speculation-become the tragic elements of adult catastrophe.

In gripping prose, charged with emotional intensity, Spies reaches into the moral confusion of youth to reveal a reality filled with deceptions and betrayals, where the bonds of friendship, marriage, and family are unravelled by cowardice and erotic desire. Master illusionist Michael Frayn powerfully demonstrates, yet again, that what appears to be happening in front of our eyes often turns out to be something we can’t see at all.

My Review

You need to be in the right frame of mind to read “Spies”. It’s a slow ramble through the confused mind of a young boy in the apparently uneventful “Close” against the background of a war in Europe which only occasionally impinges upon his life. As long as you’re not in a hurry to get to exactly what’s happening behind the lies then it’s an enjoyable enticing read.

It reminded me of my own childhood in the 1950s planning and creating camps & schemes with my cousins. There is a languorous atmosphere created by the evocative scents and the summer weather. It is also a really frustrating book because you feel like shaking Stephen to make him react and to further the plot.

I have always enjoyed Michael Frayn’s plays because of the way he skilfully uses words but in this book he seems to work too hard spelling things out like “private”, “privet” and “privy”. He takes many chapters trying to explain the tortuous thoughts of a young boy as seen through the eyes of his mature self and then ties up all the loose ends of the plot in a few brief sentences at the end.

I have read critics comparing “Spies” to “The Go-Between” by L. P. Hartley and it certainly reminds me of the misunderstandings and deceit of that book. But somehow “Spies” feels unfinished. We weren’t given enough information to understand Stephen’s relationship with his family and I really wanted to know what happened to Keith’s family.

This book could have been something special but somehow it misses out. Stephen is not really very likeable even if he is a typical boy of his time & circumstances. The real passions are out of reach for the reader. We cannot see inside the mind of Keith’s mother & can only imagine how she is suffering. Someone needs to write the book again, from her viewpoint.

Spies can be found on Amazon UK

Michael Frayn

Frayn

Michael Frayn was born in London in 1933 and began his career as a journalist on the Guardian and the Observer. His novels include Towards the End of the Morning, Headlong (shortlisted for the 1999 Booker Prize), Spies (longlisted for the 2002 Man Booker Prize) and Skios. His seventeen plays range from Noises Off, recently chosen as one of the nation’s three favourite plays, to Copenhagen, which won the 1998 Evening Standard Award for Best Play of the Year and the 2000 Tony Award for Best Play. He is married to the writer Claire Tomalin.

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Goddess of the Rainbow by Patrick Brigham #FridayReads #BookReview

Goddess Rainbow

 

Goddess of the Rainbow gives, in 16 chapters, the interconnected stories of the community of a small town in Northern Greece when constant rain threatens imminent flooding.  The goddess of the title takes the form of Iris, a DHL courier, who like her namesake is a messenger.  The other inhabitants of Orestiada include an estate agent and his wife, who are plotting murder, a Greek Australian returning to his father’s birthplace, the Greek Orthodox priest whom everyone trusts but who has had a crisis of faith, a Syrian illegal immigrant, a writer with a dangerous past, who has found sanctuary and a group of Russian women invited to the town by the mayor, due to a lack of potential wives for the towns aging bachelors.

This disparate group provide, humour, pathos and intrigue.  Fate and the floods brings them together and changes their future. Patrick Brigham is a talented writer with specialised knowledge of the people and politics of the Balkans and the lifestyle of northern Greece.  His imaginative stories show an awareness of the human condition and the effects of relationships, both loving and poisonous.  These stories tempt me to look further into his other published books. A good read.

To purchase Goddess of the Rainbow on Amazon UK

 

Patrick Brigham

Patrick

The author Patrick Brigham has written several mystery books, many of which are set at the very end of the Cold War and Communism. Featuring fictional police detective Chief Inspector Michael Lambert, he is often faced with political intrigue, and in order to solve his cases – which frequently take place in Eastern Europe and the Balkans – he needs to understand how an old Communist thinks, during the course of his investigations.  There are few good books on the subject of international crime, especially mystery stories which delve into the shady side of Balkan politics, neither are there many novelists who are prepared to address Mystery Crime Fiction.

 
Patrick Brigham was the Editor in Chief of the first English Language news magazine in Bulgaria between 1995 and 2000. As a journalist, he witnessed the changes in this once hard core Communist Country and personally knew most of the political players. Traditionally a hotbed of intrigue and the natural home of the conspiracy theory, Bulgaria proved to be quite a challenge and for many the transition into democracy was painful.  Despite this, he personally managed to survive these changes and now lives peacefully in Northern Greece.

https://authorpatrickbrigham.com/

 

 

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Kate A

A God in ruins is a slow boiler. It tells the story of Teddy, a beloved son and brother whose comfortable life changed so dramatically when the second world war began. Moving back and forth through his life, we see him as a gentle, loving grandfather, a much-respected pilot and a dutiful husband. But it is a life full of quandaries; should he marry his childhood sweetheart, how can he communicate with his wayward daughter and how can he defend bombing Germany?

Looking through Teddy’s eyes the juxtaposition of different eras flows logically. I was more at ease with this book than with the artifice of “Life After Life.” Once immersed in the story I could read it forever, but there is a finale and that is both a surprise and yet absolutely right.

There are so many facets to this book such as the delightful stories of the mischievous child, Augustus, written by Teddy’s aunt with him as a model, the awful behaviour and total lack of empathy of Teddy’s daughter, Viola, and the very British, stubborn manner in which Teddy’s wife, Nancy, deals with illness.
I tend to ignore essential words at the beginning of a novel, so it is important to return to the quotes Kate Atkinson begins with, especially the source of her title:

“A man is a god in ruins. When men are innocent, life shall be longer, and shall pass into the immortal, as gently as we wake from dreams.“ – Ralph Waldo Emerson – Nature

I could write so much more about Kate Atkinson’s descriptive prose, her pithy comments, her understanding of humanity and the savage consequences of war, but it would be much better for you to read her book.

The Oystercatcher Girl by Gabrielle Barnby

Oyster catcher

The Oystercatcher Girl is set in the stark, windswept landscape of Orkney where Neolithic graves mark the ancient residents while the present-day community work hard and seek love and friendship. Returning for a heart-breaking funeral, Christine narrates her story and that of her sister, Lindsay, and her best friend, Tessa. For once, Lindsay, a tempestuous, unreliable personality, supports her sister as she mourns Robbie, the love of her life, who had married Tessa.

It is, therefore, a surprise to find Christine sharing her house with Tessa and her young daughter Jenna. Starting work in St Olaf’s primary school, she remembers her childhood, how she and Tessa became inseparable and how they marked the rhythm of the seasons such as Halloween and the November bonfires, as they grew up. But a teenage party changed everything. Secrets separated friends and inevitably Christine resented her troublesome sister.

Gabrielle Barnby writes in detail of everyday routine, of the beauty of the countryside or sordid appearance of a street and of the confusion Christine feels. Tessa appears to be an enigma; a butterfly or an oystercatcher, scampering with the tide. She gave up music on a whim, she shows little sign of grief for her husband and yet she is a caring mother. We see Robbie through the eyes of others and through a bundle of letters, which hint at the secrets we do not understand.

As the story progresses, Christine finds herself endangered by past deeds. Can she find contentment and a sense of belonging or will happiness be elusive? This literary, mindful novel has a spiritual quality and yet is firmly grounded in everyday predicaments of love, loss and secrets.

Gabrielle

Gabrielle Barnby

The longer I live in Orkney the more I have come to love the wild landscape and the lilting dialect, which stings the ear like the wind. This book was written over the last three years, it is set in Orkney, but I wanted to write about relationships in a way that spoke to everyone no matter where they live.

Christina’s story is about life and death, and the messy complications that increase rather than diminish as time goes by. The desire for perfection in herself and other people is in danger of leaving Christine isolated from everyone she loves. Ultimately, her journey to self-knowledge will be irrevocably linked with loss.

Gabrielle is a graduate of Oxford University where she studied Human Sciences and received a Phd for research into the molecular genetics of autism.
Gabrielle’s first collection The House with The Lilac Shutters and other stories was inspired by repeated summer visits to a small town at the base of the Pyrenees. She now lives in Orkney, where she is involved in writing groups, storytelling and creative workshops for children. A variety of her work, including poetry, has been published in anthologies and magazines.

‘I find joy in everyday happenings, give reverence to small moments that touch deeply and might otherwise pass by unremarked.’

You will find The Oystercatcher Girl at Amazon UK or at Amazon US

#FridayBookShare ~ Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson @ShelleyWilson72

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#FridayBookShare is a game created by Shelley Wilson to help search for an ideal read.

Anyone can have a go – all you need to do is answer the following questions based on the book you are currently reading/finished reading this week and use the hashtag #FridayBookShare

First line of the book.

Recruit fans by adding the book blurb

Introduce the main character using only three words.

Delightful design (add the cover image of the book).

Audience appeal (who would enjoy reading this book?)

Your favourite line/scene.

Ever since I discovered Case Histories many years ago I have been a great fan of Kate Atkinson.  Emotionally Weird is one of her early books, set in Dundee, which I read appropriately while staying in Dundee, although that is not necessary.

First Line   My mother is a virgin (trust me) my mother Nora- A fiery Caledonian beacon- says she is untouched by the hand of man and is as pure as Joan of Arc or the snow on the Grampians.

Recruit fans by adding the book blurb

On a peat and heather island off the west coast of Scotland, Effie and her mother Nora take refuge in the large mouldering house of their ancestors and tell each other stories.

Nora, at first, recounts nothing that Effie really wants to hear, like who her father was – variously Jimmy, Jack, or Ernie. Effie tells of her life at college in Dundee, where she lives in a lethargic relationship with Bob, a student who never goes to lectures, seldom gets out of bed, and to whom the Klingons are as real as the French and the Germans (more real than the Luxemburgers).

But strange things are happening. Why is Effie being followed? Why is everyone writing novels? Is someone killing the old people? And where is the mysterious yellow dog?

Introduce the main character – Effie is an observer, a novelist, a wordsmith.

Delightful Design

emotionally-weird

Audience appeal  This might appeal to those who are familiar with Atkinson’s recent novels or more to those who like absurdity such as Flann O’Brien’s books.  You are taken back to 1970s student life.

Your Favourite Scene

I was sitting next to Terri- a black wolf prowling the night.  Terri’s assignment for Martha was poetry.  Terri’s poems came under the collective title My Favourite Suicide and you can probably imagine the content matter.  Some of them (although undoubtedly derivative) were surprisingly cheerful-

I drank the glass of

milk you left on the

bedside table. It was

sour, thank you

Martha was wearing a long cashmere plaid woven from the dull colours of infinity, that she had fixed, toga-style, with a claw of some bird, a grouse or a ptarmigan maybe, set with a purple amethyst.

Andrea was making a great show of sharpening her pencils and laying everything out on her little table while Kevin was staring at the space Olivia’s feet would have occupied if she had been there.

“I think we should begin with a little exercise to flex our writing muscles,” Martha said, speaking very slowly as if she was on prescription drugs but I think it was just her way of trying to communicate with people less intelligent than she thought she was.

“Write me a paragraph,” Martha enunciated clearly, in just 10 minutes, which incorporates these three word bractate, trowel and vilifies.”

If you want to join in, then answer the F.R.I.D.A.Y questions and use the Friday Book Share meme. Tag Shelley (@ShelleyWilson72) in, so she can read what you have added, too.

#FridayBookShare After Dark by Haruki Murakami

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#FridayBookShare is a game created by Shelley Wilson to help search for an ideal read.

Anyone can have a go – all you need to do is answer the following questions based on the book you are currently reading/finished reading this week and use the hashtag #FridayBookShare

First line of the book.

Recruit fans by adding the book blurb

Introduce the main character using only three words.

Delightful design (add the cover image of the book).

Audience appeal (who would enjoy reading this book?)

Your favourite line/scene.

After Dark is the second book I have read by Haruki Murakami.  It is slim and easy to read but that doesn’t mean that it is easy to understand.

First Line  Eyes mark the shape of the city.  Through the eyes of a high flying night-bird, we take in the scene from midair.

Recruit fans by adding the book blurb

The midnight hour approaches in an almost empty all-night diner. Mari sips her coffee and glances up from a book as a young man, a musician, intrudes on her solitude. Both have missed the last train home. The musician has plans to rehearse with his jazz band all night, Mari is equally unconcerned and content to read, smoke and drink coffee until dawn. They realise they’ve been acquainted through Eri, Mari’s beautiful sister. The musician soon leaves with a promise to return before dawn. Shortly afterwards Mari will be interrupted a second time by a girl from the Alphaville Hotel; a Chinese prostitute has been hurt by a client, the girl has heard Mari speaks fluent Chinese and requests her help.

Meanwhile Eri is at home and sleeps a deep, heavy sleep that is ‘too perfect, too pure’ to be normal; pulse and respiration at the lowest required level. She has been in this soporfic state for two months; Eri has become the classic myth – a sleeping beauty. But tonight as the digital clock displays 00:00 a faint electrical crackle is perceptible, a hint of life flickers across the TV screen, though the television’s plug has been pulled.

Murakami, acclaimed master of the surreal, returns with a stunning new novel, where the familiar can become unfamiliar after midnight, even to those that thrive in small hours. With After Dark we journey beyond the twilight. Strange nocturnal happenings, or a trick of the night?

Introduce the main character –Enigmatic, solitary, observer.

Delightful Design

After Dark

Audience appeal  Curious, adventurous readers

Your favourite line/scene

All of a sudden out of nowhere I can bring back things I haven’t thought about for years.  It’s pretty interesting.  Memory is so crazy!  It’s like we’ve got these drawers crammed with tons of useless stuff.  Meanwhile all the really important things we just keep forgetting, one after the other.

It’s because I can pull the memories out of the drawers when I have to- the important ones and the useless ones- that I can go on living this nightmare of a life.

You can find After Dark on Amazon here

If you want to join in, then answer the F.R.I.D.A.Y questions and use the Friday Book Share meme. Tag Shelley (@ShelleyWilson72) in, so she can read what you have added, too.

 

Silent Water by Jan Ruth

 

The Wild Water series includes everything I desire for a perfect read.  It describes contemporary life in all its complexities; love, passion, family connections, humour and tragedy.  After the changes in family circumstances brought about by the blossoming romance between Jack Redman and his childhood sweetheart, Anna, when they reconnect in Wild Water, the plot grew menacing in Dark Water leaving readers on a cliff-hanger.  Silent Water delivers everything I had hoped for.  Events catch up with Jack and Anna and they must decide whether to reveal their secret.

 

Jack Redman can be embarrassing and foolish, but his passion and commitment to those he loves, make him irresistible.  Anna is quieter and more thoughtful, she takes longer to decide on her actions.  The other main characters are also fascinating.  Ex-wife Patsy is miserable in her new life in Chester and her depression leads her to be more manipulative than ever, but does she really deserve our sympathy?  Jack’s daughter Lottie is hilarious as she enters puberty, acting outrageously to cope with her need for a stable home.

 

In Silent Water Anna matures.  She takes responsibility and doesn’t rely on Jack to take care of her.  When she realises that he has been keeping secrets from her, she has to decide whether their love is strong enough to survive.  And as the storyline winds the threads together, there is a delicious twist at the end.

 

If I worked for a TV company, I would be commissioning this trilogy for a serial.  Against the backdrop of stunning scenery in Snowdonia, dramatic events, family misunderstandings, tears and laughter fill the plot.  If you haven’t tried it yet, you really must read all three books as soon as possible.

Rosie's Book Review team 1