Sally Fitzgibbons Foundation

Beginning the Academic Essay

The novels ‘Spies’ by Michael Frayn and ‘Enduring Love’ by Ian McEwan were published just five years apart with ‘Spies’ being published in 2002 and ‘Enduring Love’ in 1997. Although not evident at a glance, these two novels share many similar themes and ideas throughout as the authors of both novels thread mystery and intrigue throughout their narratives. In the psychological thriller ‘Enduring Love’, McEwan presents Joe to be initially wracked by guilt over a balloon accident at the start of the novel and then perplexed by Jed’s bizarre obsession with him which inevitably leads to disaster, whereas, in ‘Spies’, Stephen’s youthful exuberance leads him to believe that Keith’s mother is a German spy during World War II and they spend majority of the novel engrossed in a mission to find out the truth. This has even led Max Watman from the New Criterion to suggest that Frayn uses an “unnecessary and empty suspense” while also dismissing the “wilful naïveté of the child narrator” even though the novel is of high literary merit and won the Whitbread Novel of the Year in 2002.
From the outset of ‘Enduring Love’ McEwan utilises Joe, the first person narrator to withhold important information, backtrack in time and use careful wording such as ‘Next thing, I was running towards it’ to create a sense of urgency and panic as he is describing the hot air balloon in which a boy is trapped as it is rising uncontrollably in the air. McEwan illustrates this panic by using the repetition of ‘a man’s shout’ to illustrate a sense of mystery and leaves the reader questioning what will follow this tense scene. Similarly, ‘Spies’ is also first-person narrated however, as a genre, ‘Spies’ fits clearly into bildungsroman style as it shows the importance of Stephen’s personal development from a young boy in the midst of World War II with relation to the storyline. Frayn displays Stephen as quite an enigmatic character as he revisits his old hometown describing ‘Everything is as it was…and everything has changed’. This paradox invites us to wonder what has remained the same and what is different: the appearance of the place, the narrator´s feelings, the people or the atmosphere.

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