mickpro, January 9, 2013 (view all comments by mickpro)
This one's a hoot. Mistaken identities and taking advantage of it, cultural differences, upper class bad behavior, high-handedness and more. It's all fair game and it's all great entertainment under Michael Frayn's expert direction. He' a savvy satirist and an astute observer, as well as an exceptional writer.
postgeoff, July 29, 2012 (view all comments by postgeoff)
From the Renaissance on, the theme of history has been expansion: the Age of Exploration carrying adventurers and map-makers to every corner of the globe; the Reformation replacing a monolithic church with religious diversity; philosophy yielding to ideology; capitalism finding the price of everything while liberating us from obligation to its value. This expansion seemed on course to go on forever, like the post-Big Bang universe. But lately, one thing has begun to shrink. That would be us. Now every day brings news of scientific breakthroughs that diminish nature’s only witness. Our senses don’t reliably inform us, nor do we wait on them as we thought we did for the wherewithal to make choices. How could we ever really know each other, when we don’t know ourselves?
Michael Frayn is the poet laureate of this collapse. Or perhaps its ‘clown prince.’ A number of literary authors have taken on themes like the mind’s preference for a good story instead of reason, and how those stories are undermined by narrative unreliability. But no one else handles the impact of technology on the scaffolding of knowledge and the human desire for certainly with Frayn’s scathing humor. Most of us like to laugh; all of us need to. Some prefer to laugh at things falling about, while others require the witty insight that eviscerates appearances. Frayne offers it all in generous helpings.
Those who enjoy stage farce��"mistaken doors and misplaced assignations��"may remember Frayn from ‘Noises Off,’ the best-known of his fifteen stage plays and the masterpiece and template of these juggling acts, in which any number of characters, plots, and subplots are kept suspended in chaotic misadventures. Those who prefer an art-historical context, whether Donna Leon’s Venice or Steve Martin’s Soho, might recall ‘Headlong,’ one of Frayn’s ten novels, where he unspools a solution to one of the most exquisite mysteries in all art. It’s a mark of his skill that Frayn, almost alone among writers, is at the top of his class both on stage and between pages. In ‘Skios,’ he’s merged his genres and their antithetical strengths. Readers watch the action play out before them as if on stage, but are privy to the characters’ intentions, confusion, and false certainties. More, we are granted insight into alternative possibilities: roads not taken that branch out even beyond the spaghetti bowl of conflicting motives and snarled misunderstandings.
Skios is a Greek island (not a collection of Swiss sports enthusiasts) to which the Fred Toppler Foundation invites intellectuals, culturati, magnates, and their various accompanists. It’s a stew that turns even the most hardened professional amateur on some level. The guest of honor at the Foundation’s annual gathering has gone astray, lost like checked luggage, and been replaced by someone hoping to escape his life’s consequences and start over. But old consequences trail him, and new ones defeat all efforts to sort out the confusion. Frayn’s x-ray vision lights the way down to the level of actual luggage, passports, and the indispensables we take for granted. But nothing can be taken for granted in ‘Skios,‘ amid an ensemble of faked ruins concealing a greater, un-ruined truth that could easily be lost to the foibles of those who set themselves up as its defenders.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Frayn's latest (after Afterlife) is a wacky case of mistaken identity set on the luxurious Greek island of Skios. Nikki Hook is arranging the Fred Toppler Foundation's annual gala, a celebration of culture attended by academic heavyweights and international dignitaries. But when she goes to the airport to pick up the keynote lecturer, Dr. Norman Wilfred, an eminent theorist and pedantic bore, she instead collects Oliver Fox. Oliver, a playboy who has come to Skios to seduce the beautiful Georgie, decides on a whim, when Georgie's flight is delayed, to usurp Dr. Wilfred's identity. Meanwhile, through a series of absurd misunderstandings, the real Dr. Wilfred is whisked away to Oliver's borrowed villa where lonely Georgie waits. Nikki soon becomes enamored with the duplicitous lothario she believes to be Dr. Wilfred, while Dr. Wilfred falls for Georgie. The novel is a lacerating satire, with characters propelled by equal parts accident and self-interest in a world in which academic and political luminaries are as vapid as the fraud they fawn over. While entertaining, the absence of sympathetic characters keeps the stakes low and the dramatic tension weak. Agent: Carol Heaton, Greene & Heaton. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize
Washington Post Notable Book of the Year
“Expertly written, genuine fun...Frayn builds his puzzle so painstakingly and tells his story so engagingly, you want to jump in his lap and build a nest.”—Alex Witchel, The New York Times Book Review
“A masterly crafted farce...Frayn is so devilishly good at clicking the pieces into place that watching him build his contraption is its own entertainment.”—Entertainment Weekly
On the private Greek island of Skios, the high-paying guests of a world-renowned foundation prepare for the annual keynote address, to be given this year by Dr. Norman Wilfred, an aging and ponderous authority on the scientific organization of science. He turns out to be surprisingly youthful and charming, and everyone is soon eating out of his hand.
Meanwhile, in a remote villa at the other end of the island, the ravishing Georgie has agreed to spend a furtive horizontal weekend with a notorious schemer, who has characteristically failed to turn up. Trapped there with her instead is a pompous, balding individual called Dr. Norman Wilfred, who has lost his whereabouts, his luggage, and his temper—indeed, everything he possesses other than the text of a lecture on the scientific organization of science.
In a spiraling farce about upright academics, ambitious climbers, and dotty philanthropists, Michael Frayn, "the god of farce" (Entertainment Weekly), tells a story of personal and professional disintegration, probing his eternal theme of how we know what we know even as he delivers us to the outer limits of hilarity.
The great master of farce turns to an exclusive island retreat for a comedy of mislaid identities, unruly passions, and demented, delicious disorder
On the private Greek island of Skios, the high-paying guests of a world-renowned foundation prepare for the annual keynote address, to be given this year by Dr. Norman Wilfred, an eminent authority on the scientific organization of science. He turns out to be surprisingly youthful, handsome, and charming—quite unlike his reputation as dry and intimidating. Everyone is soon eating out of his hands. So, even sooner, is Nikki, the foundation's attractive and efficient organizer.
Meanwhile, in a remote villa at the other end of the island, Nikki's old friend Georgie has rashly agreed to spend a furtive horizontal weekend with a notorious schemer, who has characteristically failed to turn up. Trapped there with her instead is a pompous, balding individual called Dr. Norman Wilfred, who has lost his whereabouts, his luggage, his temper, and increasingly all sense of reality—indeed, everything he possesses other than the text of a well-traveled lecture on the scientific organization of science.
In a spiraling farce about upright academics, gilded captains of industry, ambitious climbers, and dotty philanthropists, Michael Frayn, the farceur "by whom all others must be measured" (CurtainUp), tells a story of personal and professional disintegration, probing his eternal theme of how we know what we know even as he delivers us to the outer limits of hilarity.
Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.