Skios by Michael Frayn

Skios by
Hardcover, 278 pages
Rating: 7/10


Stepping off a plane onto the sunny Greek island of Skios, the impulsive Oliver Fox sees the welcoming smile of discreetly blonde and discreetly tanned Nikki Hook and decides he should try to pass as the name on her card - Dr. Norman Wilfred. Dr. Wilfred, who is due to give a lecture at the Fred Toppler Foundation, is too weary to notice he's managed to be mistaken for Oliver - but the woman in his bed isn't about to make the same mistake. This farce plays out over a few days, as we wait for Dr Wilfred (one of them, anyway) to deliver his headlining lecture, or for everything to come crashing down around them.

Reason for Reading

On the Man Booker Prize longlist for 2012.

Why you should read this book

Frayn is juggling a lot of balls in Skios, and he manages to keep them in the air in some unexpected and creative ways. While the premise of the story is of course far-fetched, we're willing to believe - don't we all know someone who can just coast through ridiculous situations unscathed? Or that guy who's so close to getting it all right but has terrible luck? Frayn also isn't afraid to pick on faux-intellectuals who are so afraid of looking ignorant that they'll go along with anything, and of gently mocking humourless geniuses who are too focused on the facts to see the absurdities of life. Despite coming from completely different walks of life, the play between Oliver and Dr Wilfred's lives is interesting to watch, as they unknowingly bounce their energies off each other and start to consider the growing unhappiness of the general direction of their lives. Walk a mile in these characters' shoes for a fast, fun read.

Why you should avoid this book

While well-written and full of fun characters, the plot of Skios didn't really thrill me overall. Yes, I spent the majority of the novel thinking I knew where the ending was going, and it didn't go there - but, even with Frayn's nod to the expected before going completely wild, I'm not fully convinced it worked. I really wavered between a 7 and 8 rating on this one because of Frayn's skill on executing this farce, but as a reader, I wasn't completely satisfied. While a good book, I didn't see why it should be on the Booker Prize longlist as a great book.

Opening Paragraph

'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 I'm sure none of us here will ever forget...'

Fabulous quotes

Good God, thought Oliver, as he saw the smile. She thinks I'm him!
And all at once he knew it was so. He was Dr Norman Wilfred. He saw his life as Dr Norman Wilfred stretching in front of him like the golden pathway into the rising sun. He had no choice but to walk along that pathway, towards the warmth, towards the light.
So he did, pulling his suitcase behind him.
He struggled to sit up, so as to think more clearly. At once the bundle of mosquito netting screamed louder than ever, picked up various pieces of clothing scattered around the floor, and ran into the bathroom. There was the sound of a bolt being slammed home.
He remembered that he had uttered two words, but not, in his state of shock, what they were. What could they have possibly been? Never, surely, in the history of travelling lecturers had two words produced such an abrupt and total reversal of fortune.

Also by

The Tin Man; The Russian Interpreter; Towards the End of the Morning; A Very Private Life; Sweet Dreams; The Trick of It; A Landing on the Sun; Now You Know; Headlong; Spies; Constructions; Celia's Secret; The Human Touch; Collected Columns; Stage Directions; My Father's Fortune.

Fun Tidbit

In addition to his novels, Frayn is also a successful playwright.

Would I read more by ?

I'm not especially inspired to keep reading more on my own, but I'd still be open to a glowing recommendation for another book.

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