How does Michael Frayn Establish a Sense of Uncertainty in the Early Stages of Spies?

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Breany Jones

How does Michael Frayn Establish a Sense of Uncertainty in the Early Stages of Spies?

Like in any book, Frayn starts to set the scene in the opening stages of the book, and in this particular case, to do so he uses a sense of uncertainty. This uncertainty appears in many phases of the early stages. There is uncertainty in the time, is it past or present, there is uncertainty about memories, and there is definitely uncertainty about the people and their secrets.

        The book begins, and you can sense that uncertainty from the very beginning ‘and there it is again: the same almost embarrassingly familiar breath of sweetness’ Well as the reader we do not know what this scent is, and neither does the narrator, ‘It comes from one of the gardens. Which one? I can never trace it. And what is it?’  Immediately, as the reader you are drawn into this, the curiosity of what the smell it, why is it so familiar to him? This idea of the scent is then carried on in much more detail. It is described as ‘something quite harsh and coarse. It reeks. It has a kind of sexual urgency to it. And it unsettles me’ Again, even as the reader you are troubled by these images, these quite disturbing words make you wonder why does Frayn use them just to describe what was ‘a familiar breath of sweetness’ so, even in the first couple of paragraphs you are uncertain as to what is happening, what is about to happen and why the narrator is so uncertain about this scent.

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        This sense of uncertainty is throughout the rest of the chapter, as well as this familiar, yet unknown scent. Yet towards the end of the chapter, there is even more uncertainty for the reader. The phrase ‘Was my daughter speaking English when she told me that?’ arouses the question if they are not English, where are they from? Later still, ‘Six [words], to be precise. Spoken quite casually…And yet they changed everything.’  This brings about the questions, what are these six words? Why did they change everything? This uncertainty means people want to carry on reading to find out what’s ...

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