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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Spies

Luis Fernando Verissimo

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To purchase The Spies

Title: The Spies
Author: Luis Fernando Verissimo
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 169 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: The Spies - UK
The Spies - India
  • Portuguese title: Os Espiões
  • Translated by Margaret Jull Costa

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Our Assessment:

B : genial tale of ambitions -- literary and otherwise -- and misunderstandings

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Observer . 10/11/2012 Hannah Rosefield
De Standaard . 3/8/2012 John Vervoort

  From the Reviews:
  • "There are no hierarchies of true and false in The Spies. The whole is a frolic in absurdity, yet has a coherence reminiscent of a cryptic crossword clue: mystifying from the outside, but with unarguable internal logic. At barely 200 pages, and with a note-perfect translation from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa, The Spies shares with a cryptic crossword the virtue of succinctness, not a word or scene wasted. But, if the unreal seems real, the flipside is that the real seems unreal, and it's hard to take any of it seriously." - Hannah Rosefield, The Observer

  • "Op een filosofisch niveau is De spionnen een mooie vertelling over waarheid en leugen, hoe verbeelding werkt en wat de functie van literatuur is. Maar Verissimo heeft zich in de eerste plaats zichtbaar geamuseerd door op een spitse manier te spelen met thema's en motieven die in elke misdaadroman opduiken en met personages te bedenken die van lichtjes geschift tot behoorlijk krankzinnig zijn. Bovendien schrijft hij oprecht grappig." - John Vervoort, De Standaard

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       At the start of this story the narrator of The Spies has sunk pretty low. He had joined a friend's publishing house more than a decade earlier, when he was thirty, ready for new starts: he'd finsished a novel which he hoped to get published, he was just married, and was expecting a child. Now, as he begins his account, he can sum it all up by admitting: "I'm a literature graduate and seek oblivion in drink."
       He still toils at the publishing house, where one of his tasks is going through the slush pile. There he is faced with the endless flow of the unpublishable -- though, in fact, the publisher is glad to put anything in print, if the author is willing to pay. Things take a turn, however, when he comes across an envelope with just a few pages from an account titled 'Ariadne' -- "a diary or an autobiography or a confession". It's not so much the literary quality (complete with misspellings) that grabs him, but something about it certainly does.
       As perhaps suggested by the fact that he wanted to name his son "le Carré", the narrator is drawn to mystery, and 'Ariadne' offers quite a bit of it, from the fact that it was a friend of the author submitting the pages to the story itself -- something about revenge, a 'Secret Lover', a promised suicide ..... As in the myth of the Minotaur, the narrator grabs onto Ariadne's thread and hopes to make his way through this strange labyrinth -- eventually even launching 'Operation Theseus' in trying to get at the truth.
       Helped by a somewhat bumbling set of drinking buddies and colleagues, the narrator tries to get to the bottom of the Ariadne story, which he becomes increasingly fascinated by as more installments appear. The manuscript pages are sent from a small town in the Brazilian interior, Frondosa, and the narrator and his friends begin to piece together a story that might fit the narrative. First one, then two, then even the narrator head to Frondosa, to try to get at the root of the story. The outsiders make their various marks on the place in amusing fashion, but things also easily get out of hand as the misunderstandings pile on. This being Brazil, football (soccer) also plays a significant role, from the local still trying to atone for making his fortune by betting on the enemy to win the 1950 World Cup to a local five-on-five team that's suddenly doing exceptionally well.
       Verissimo has a nice touch with his absurd little group of characters, playing at being spies and causing a good bit of small-time havoc. It's no grand thriller, but it's an amusing literary game as Verissimo plays well with ideas of ambition (of the failed and thwarted sort, especially) and fanciful imaginations -- and, of course, the strange realities of publishing. "In fiction you can meddle in your characters' lives as much as you want", the narrator observes, and Verissimo certainly delights in doing so.
       Destiny proves inescapable:

By the end of Saturday evening everything that was going to happen had happened. Blame the stars. Blame that madman. Blame me. Above all, blame literature.
       The Spies is a nice little not-quite-mystery, with a light literary touch (and some De Chirico for good measure) that doesn't take itself too seriously but still manages to offer some clever ideas, solid laughs, and a bit of poignancy.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 November 2012

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The Spies: Reviews: Luis Fernando Verissimo: Other books by Luis Fernando Verissimo under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Brazilian author Luis Fernando Verissimo was born in 1936.

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© 2012 the complete review

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