The main theme of spying is explored throughout the novel. To explore this theme Frayne has created powerful characters that present the qualities of a true spy. He achieves this using effective narrative and language techniques. Conclusively Frayn has developed a novel full of suspense and mystery.
Within spies, Frayn has used rich, nostalgic text to explore its main theme of spying. The title itself represents darkness, secrecy and danger. Frayn has deliberately placed many hidden clues which undoubtably leave us puzzled and ultimately turn us into spies.
Moreover, several characters in the text spy on one another or are being spied upon. To add to this the older Stephen himself spies on his younger self.
At the beginning of the novel the younger Stephen would often visit his friend Keith. Being boys they would regularly play games associated with mystery and danger, espionage for example. This game is heavily contrasted with the grim reality of the secret meetings and sudden death as Stephen grows up around slow disintegration of the Hayward family.
Frayn cleverly combines childhood, secrecy, innocence and the suppressed violence whilst demonstrating the idea that what we see in front of us may not always be reality.
Frayn first subtly hints Stephen German background- ”there are cheap flights to that far-off nearby land.’ The word ‘nearby’ hints that England is metaphorically close to him however ‘far-off’ implies that in a literal sense England is actually far away from him, this may also suggest that his time occupied in England was a very long time ago.
Stephen’s German origin is once again later revealed through many other clues; ‘coodle-moodle,’ ‘shnick-shnack,’ ‘liguster’ these German are what reveals his German background. Stephen asks ‘was my daughter speaking English when she told me that? No-she wasn’t. This leaves us to ponder; why she wasn’t speaking English consequently it invokes a sense of mystery. Furthermore it shows that she may have been speaking another language, which is possibly German.
In addition, Frayn implements several clues which make a reference to Stephen’s Jewish heritage. ‘Cabbalistic moon’ is a reference to Judaism. Another implication is the ‘staying on Friday nights’. ‘Sheeny’ is what Stephen used to get called at school by his peers, the word sheeny is a contemptuous term for a Jewish person. Furthermore Stephen and his family were referred to as ‘juice’ this represent the innocent minds of the children being poisoned by corrupt thoughts, the word juice is ironic as the setting is in WW2.
The espionage adventure involves the spying on Keith’s mother which is conducted by Stephen and Keith. The boys follow Mrs.’s Hayward around and record her activities in their logbook. The logbook represents the seriousness of the whole adventure; the boys are very keen to help with the war effort. The quotations ‘we have to make sacrifices for the war effort’ as they ‘have to endure hardship for the sake of the duration’ support this idea. Ironically misspells secret… ‘Keith crosses out BIRDS and writes LOGBOOK SECRIT’ this underlines the childhood aspect.
When the narrator describes Stephen and Keith he maintains a childhood perspective upon them and portrays their innocent and naivety. This is portrayed when the children misinterpret Mrs.’s Hayward’s ‘X’ markings which represent her menstrual cycle for secret meetings with the Germans.
The setting of the novel is in WW2. This makes the title Spies very relevant as spying was a big issue during that period. Spying was also the main theme for many comics and books in that era which is what undoutbly influenced Stephen and Keith. This reflects upon the unpredictability that surrounded that era.
In the same way that Stephen and Keith spy on Mrs.’s Hayward, ultimately the reader also becomes a spy in an attempt for figure out whether or not she is a German spy. We also have to figure out who this ‘tramp’ is and question Stephen’s own identity. The older Stephen also spies into his own life as he tries to piece together recollections of that period and questions its significance in his life.
Frayn invokes a sense of mystery at the beginning. The narrator describes the privet having a ‘sweet and luring reek’ this oxymoron represents the doubt that fills the narrators mind at the time. This indicates even the older Stephen is still bewildered by all the unresolved events that took place in the past. ‘For a moment I’m a child again’ this phrase has a dream-like quality to it which suggest that the place has awoken his senses. This leaves the reader questioning as to why a shrub can trigger such strong emotions. This engages the reader’s attention, which leaves us with a sense of mystery and suspense.
Keith and Stephen are both very secretive about their adventure; this gives their characters a spy-like quality. When they are in the privet they mention ‘no one in the world can see us’. Stephen also has a very courageous character as he follows Keith’s mother to the tunnels. The setting, which is at nighttime, adds an element of concern and danger. In addition Frayn describes the scene through the young Stephen himself this makes us feel much more closer to the experience.