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Skios

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Skios Cover

ISBN13: 9780805095494
ISBN10: 0805095497
Condition: Standard
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“I just want to say a big thank-you to our distinguished guest,” said Nikki Hook, “for making this evening such a fascinating and wonderful occasion, and one that Im sure none of us here will ever forget…”

She stopped and read the sentence aloud again to herself, then deleted “fascinating and wonderful” and inserted “unique and special,” which sounded a little bit more—well—unique and special. A little bit more Mrs. Fred Toppler, in fact, which was what counted, because it was after all Mrs. Fred Toppler, not Nikki, who was going to be so grateful, and find it all so extraordinary. Nikki was merely Mrs. Fred Topplers PA. She provided the thoughts for Mrs. Toppler to think, but in the end it was Mrs. Toppler who had to think them.

Outside the windows of Nikkis office the tumbling gardens and hillsides of the Fred Toppler Foundation were vivid in the blaze of the Mediterranean afternoon. Cascades of well-watered bougainvillea and plumbago challenged the saturated blue of the sky. The fishermens cottages along the waterfront and the caïques rocking at anchor on the dazzle of the sea were as blinding white and as heavenly blue as the Greek flag stirring lethargically on the flagpole.

Nikki, though, looking out at it all as she composed Mrs. Topplers thoughts for her, was as discreetly cool as the air-conditioning. Her discreetly blonded hair was unruffled, her white shirt and blue skirt a discreet echo of the Greek whites and blues outside, her expression pleasantly but discreetly open to the world. She was discreetly British, because Mrs. Toppler, who was American, like the late Mr. Fred, appreciated it. Europeans in general embodied for her the civilized values that the Fred Toppler Foundation existed to promote, and the British were Europeans who had the tact and good sense to speak English. Anyway, everyone liked Nikki, though, not just Mrs. Toppler. She was so nice! She had been a really nice girl already when she was three. She had still been one when she was seventeen, at an age when niceness was a much rarer achievement, and she remained one nearly twenty years later. Discreetly tanned, discreetly blond, discreetly effective, and discreetly nice.

As Nikki watched, people began to emerge from the fishermens cottages and drift towards the tables scattered in the shade of the great plane tree on the central square. They were not fishermen; they were not even Greek. They were not tourists or holidaymakers. They were the English-speaking guests of the foundations annual Great European House Party. They had spent the day in seminars studying Minoan cooking and early Christian meditation techniques, in classes watching demonstrations of traditional Macedonian dancing and late medieval flower arrangement. They had interspersed their labors with swims and siestas, with civilized conversation over breakfast and midmorning coffee, over prelunch drinks, lunch, and postlunch coffee, over afternoon tea and snacks. Now they were moving towards further spiritual refreshment over dinner and various pre- and postdinner drinks.

Tomorrow evening all this civilization would reach its climax in a champagne reception and formal dinner, at the end of which the guests would be spiritually prepared for the most important event of the House Party, the Fred Toppler Lecture. The lecture was one of the highlights of the Greek cultural calendar. The residents would be joined by important visitors from Athens, ferried out to the island by air and sea. There would be articles in the papers attacking the choice of subject and speaker, and lamenting the sad decline in its quality.

Please God it wasnt going to be too awful this year, prayed Nikki. All lectures, however unique and special, were of course awful, but some were more awful than others. There had to be a lecture. Why? Because there always had been one. There had been a Fred Toppler Lecture every year since the foundation had existed. They had had lectures on the Crisis in this and the Challenge of that. They had had an Enigma of, a Whither? and a Why?, three Prospects for and two Reconsiderations of. As the director of the foundation had become more eccentric and reclusive, so had his choices of lecturer become more idiosyncratic. The Post-syncretistic Approach to whatever it was the previous year had caused even Mrs. Toppler, who was prepared to thank almost anybody for almost anything, to choke on the task, which was perhaps the unconscious reason she had left the “not” out of this being an occasion they would not forget in a hurry. Nikki had seized the chance of the directors absence on a retreat in Nepal to choose this years lecturer herself.

“Dr. Norman Wilfred needs no introduction,” Mrs. Fred Toppler would be saying tomorrow when she introduced him. Nikki looked at the unneeded introduction that followed, paraphrased from the CV that Dr. Wilfreds personal assistant had sent her. His list of publications and appointments, of fellowships and awards, was mind-numbing. Lucinda Knowles, Nikkis counterpart at the J. G. Fledge Institute, had assured her that Dr. Wilfred was both a serious expert in the management of science and a genuine celebrity. Her friend Jane Gee, at the Cartagena Festival, said he was the lecturer everybody currently wanted.

So this year—“Innovation and Governance: The Promise of Scientometrics.” There was something about the word “promise” that made Nikkis heart suddenly sink. Her choice was going to be just as awful as all the others. Even now he was five miles up in the sky, on his way from London, above Switzerland or northern Italy. She had a clear and discouraging picture of him as he sat there in business class sipping his complimentary champagne. All those committees and international lectures would have taken their toll. His jowls would be heavy with importance, his waistline thick and his hair thin with it. He would have dragged “Innovation and Governance” around the world, from Toronto to Tokyo, from Oslo to Oswego, until the typescript was yellow from the Alpine sun, tear-stained from the tropical rains, and exhausted from repetition.

She printed up the unnecessary introduction and the big thank-you, the solid bookends that bracketed whatever was to come. Too late now to alter what that was going to be. It was coming towards them all at 500 mph.

She looked at her watch. She had just the right amount of time in hand to deliver the texts to Mrs. Toppler and then double-check a few things on her list, before she left for the airport. She stepped out of the door of her office into the great brick wall of late-afternoon heat.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Michael Frayn

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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.
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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.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780805095494
Subtitle:
A Novel
Author:
Frayn, Michael
Publisher:
Metropolitan Books
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20120619
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Language:
English
Pages:
272
Dimensions:
8.25 x 5.5 in

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Skios Used Hardcover
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Product details 272 pages Metropolitan Books - English 9780805095494 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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.
"Synopsis" by , 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.

"Synopsis" by , 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.

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