Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Skios by Michael Frayn

Skios: A Novel

Skios may a play posing as a novel, but it is in good company: practically all the characters in this very funny farce are pretending to be someone they are not. And those that don’t pretend to be someone else have it forced upon them. I listened to the audio production of this book, performed with great comedic timing by Robin Sachs, and feel sure that this book is best enjoyed as a performance rather than as a reading experience.

The Fred Toppler Foundation, established by a once-stripper wife of Fred Toppler on the the charming Greek island of Skios, hosts renowned social scientist Dr. Norman Wilfred to give a talk to the movers and shakers of the monied world about the scientific management of science—a topic sure to engross wealthy foundation donors like high-level political figures from Greece, robber barons from Russia, bishops and priests from the Hesperides Archipeligo, and the second-richest couple in Rhode Island. But when performance artist Oliver Fox decides on the spur-of-the-moment to impersonate Dr. Wilfred, things begin immediately to unravel.

Frayn cleverly involves us in the riot that follows by presaging the novel’s action with a word or a phrase, giving us time to laugh in advance and allowing us to give our own imaginations full rein before he pulls us back with yet another, deeper, more unlikely authorial intervention. This is a light-hearted, sunny farce, and I hope Frayn spent lovely warm days enjoying the embrace of an island foundation to write it. That is the perfect revenge.

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