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.
About Michael Frayn
Michael Frayn is the author of ten novels, including the bestselling Headlong, which was a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection and a Booker Prize finalist, and Spies, which received the Whitbread Fiction Award. He has also written a memoir, My Father’s Fortune, and fifteen plays, among them Noises Off and Copenhagen, which won three Tony Awards. He lives just south of London.
Skios is a Greek island to which each year a world-renowned speaker is invited to enlighten a world-class audience of high-paying guests at the Fred Toppler lecture, one of the highlights of the Greek cultural calendar. This year the Fred Toppler Foundation has invited Dr. Norman Wilfred, a scientist who will speak on the scientific organization of science, a subject so rarefied that it’s questionable if even he understands it. Coming to the island at the same time is Oliver Fox, a celebrity with a tousled mop of blond hair and a mischievous streak a mile wide. Fox’s reason for the journey to Skios is more mundane than Wilfred’s—he’s planning to meet Georgie, an attractive woman he’d met at a bar and impulsively invited to spend some time with at a villa owned by people he barely knows. On arriving at the airport, Fox responds to the ubiquitous signs held by those providing transportation by impulsively pretending to be Dr. Wilfred. He’s whisked off to the lush grounds of the Foundation to be greeted by Nikki Hook, personal aide to Mrs. Fred Toppler. Nikki finds herself unexpectedly attracted to Fox, whom she expected would be a rather dowdy middle-age scientist—as the “real” Wilfred is. Meanwhile, through a misunderstanding tied to the garbled English of a local taxi driver—in exasperation he winds up responding to the name “Phoksoliva,” an inversion he doesn’t comprehend—Dr. Wilfred ends up at the villa with the attractive Georgie, who has a propensity for nude sunbathing that Wilfred quite likes. – Kirkus Reviews
Fantasy Island - ‘Skios,’ a Novel by Michael Frayn
The New York Times Book Review – June 15, 2012 (Excerpt)
Can the hoary trope of mistaken identity still play in the age of Google images? Especially if it’s a young, handsome womanizer with tousled blond hair being mistaken for the middle-aged, balding keynote speaker at the meticulously planned conference of a prestigious foundation?
Well, no. But since the author is Michael Frayn, a master farceur both onstage and on the page, it’s tempting to cut him some slack. So much of his new novel, “Skios,” is so expertly written and such genuine fun, it seems ill-mannered to quibble about the dubious premise. Or the fact that the ending of a farce is usually as satisfying as the third hot fudge sundae, because the only logical outcome to rampant absurdity is even more rampant absurdity. But between start and finish, Frayn, who has written 10 previous novels, including “Headlong,” a finalist for the 1999 Booker Prize, builds his puzzle so painstakingly and tells his story so engagingly, you want to jump in his lap and build a nest for winter.
The fictional Greek island of Skios is the setting for the annual gathering sponsored by the Fred Toppler Foundation, a seemingly high-minded outfit promoting “civilized values,” presided over by Toppler’s widow, a former exotic dancer. Attendees include “the second-richest couple in the state of Rhode Island” and V. J. D. Chaudhury, “the great authority on comparative underdevelopment.” [Read the full article...]
For a Blonde Like That, Why Not Be Someone Else?
The New York Times Book Review – June 27, 2012 (Excerpt)
As his uproarious 1983 play “Noises Off” so nimbly demonstrated, Michael Frayn is a master of that most frantic of genres: the door-slamming, coincidence-splattered, slapstick-studded genre of farce. With his latest novel, “Skios,” Mr. Frayn tries to translate farce from the theater to the page — with somewhat mixed results. The novel is immensely entertaining, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s also a pretty flimsy production, with an unsatisfying and jerry-built conclusion.
Contrivance is at the heart of farce — as it’s also been at the heart of most of this author’s work — and that is certainly the case here. In fact there is nothing the least bit plausible about the premise of mistaken identity served up in this novel. We are asked to believe that in an age of Google images and Wikipedia, an incredibly handsome, charming gadabout named Oliver Fox could be confused by not one — but many — people with an older, pudgy and world-renowned expert in “the scientific management of science” named Dr. Norman Wilfred. We are also asked to believe that Fox just happens to pick up Dr. Wilfred’s suitcase at the airport baggage claim (on the island of Skios) by mistake — some moments before he spots a pretty blonde named Nikki, holding up a sign saying “Dr. Norman Wilfred” and impulsively decides that it might be fun to impersonate this fellow Wilfred, whoever that might turn out to be. Supposing that we agree to buy this premise, the novel trots along pleasantly for much of its length, sustained by Mr. Frayn’s ease at spinning out complication after complication. [Read the full article...]
Michael Frayn triumphs with ‘Skios,’ a madcap romantic comedy
The Washington Post Book Review – July 18, 2012 (Excerpt)
Do you remember Michael Frayn’s madcap play-within-a-play “Noises Off”? Have you read his satire “Towards the End of the Morning” (a.k.a. “Against Entropy”), frequently called the funniest send-up of journalism since Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop”? Are you, perhaps even now, searching for the perfect comic novel for the beach, the hammock or some lazy summer weekend?
Say “yes” to any of these questions and you should immediately head for your bookstore to buy a copy of Frayn’s new book, “Skios,” a romantic comedy constructed with the quick cutting and pace of a Marx Brothers movie. Neatly managing to preserve the ancient unities of time, place and action, the novel takes place entirely on the blissful Greek isle of Skios and focuses on the increasingly hilarious consequences of multiple cases of mistaken identity.
The plot itself is a symphonic elaboration of Saki’s “The Schartz-Metterklume Method.” In that famous short story, a bored London socialite, mistaken for a governess, decides to play the part to the hilt, with hilarious consequences (culminating in little children acting out the rape of the Sabine women). In “Skios” the coolly beautiful Nikki Hook is the personal assistant of Mrs. Fred Toppler of the internationally renowned Fred Toppler Foundation, this last being something like an Aspen Institute of the Mediterranean, nobly dedicated to wisdom and civilization. Central to the foundation’s yearly calendar is the Great European House Party, in which well-to-do people — mainly Americans — hobnob with the island’s “embedded,” intellectuals, renowned figures such as Swedish theologian Alf Persson and V.J.D. Chaudhury, “the great authority on comparative underdevelopment.” [Read the full article...]
THE LONDONDERRY AIR
Testament of an Ulster Gunman A Novel by Garrad Gawler
It all changed for Charles Cunningham, a Physics teacher at the local College of Technology in the County Derry town of Maddenstown, on a June afternoon in 1973 when a bomb exploded in his neighborhood. He answers an advertisement by the UDR, the Ulster Defence Regiment, but, in the time to come, he will experience the consequences of his decisions, and how his involvement complicates matters with family and friends, Protestants and Catholics alike, to an unexpected degree.
With “The Londonderry Air – Testament of an Ulster Gunman” Garrad Gawler describes in minute detail and with an astonishing level of authenticity not only the inner workings of the Ulster Defence Regiment, but also the activities of underground paramilitary groups of regular citizens who planned and carried out the assassination of suspected Republican terrorists in their neighborhood.
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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