In The Media
July 25, 2012
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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-04-02
- Reviewer: Staff
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)
A travel comedy of errors
Michael Frayn is perhaps best known as an award-winning playwright, especially for his theatrical farce, Noises-Off. But he is also an accomplished novelist. His new novel Skios is a dizzying send-up of foreign travel and academic foundations, combined with stock comic elements such as mistaken identity, identical suitcases and taxi drivers who don’t speak English.
The novel is set at the Fred Toppler Foundation, a dreamy mix of white walls, blue waters and cascading bougainvillea on the gorgeous Greek island of Skios. The Foundation is run to perfection by the ultra-competent Nikki Hook, Mrs. Toppler’s personal assistant, whose genial temper and blonde good looks mask her loneliness and ambition. Ms. Hook has arranged for Dr. Norman Wilfred, a notable in the world of science management, to give the annual Foundation lecture in front of an international high-paying audience. At the airport, she mistakenly picks up Oliver Fox, an impulsive womanizer with tousled hair and a dazzling smile who has come to Greece to hook up with Georgie, a woman he picked up in a bar when her boyfriend stepped away for a mere minute. While Nikki and Oliver head off to the Foundation, the hapless Dr. Wilfred, after picking up the wrong luggage, gets taken to a rented villa, where Georgie awaits.
You can see where this is going. Skios unravels like an anxiety dream where the sense of things slipping out of control increases with every step. Each time the novel shifts toward resolution, something happens that spins everything else out of control. The series of misunderstandings continues unabated as Oliver’s former girlfriend arrives at the island, along with a cast of Russian oligarchs and American investors with their own nefarious agenda.
Skios gets interesting when Frayn plays with the genre, suggesting we often believe what we want to believe. People can convince themselves, despite all evidence to the contrary, that a young and handsome playboy is a middle-aged and frumpy renowned scientist. This insight, along with Frayn’s sharp-eyed satire of the academic culture circuit, provides some food for thought among the froth.