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Skios

by Michael Frayn

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

By

Skios by Michael Frayn
© Metropolitan Books
Metropolitan Books, 2012

If you have ever been to a professional conference, Skios is for you. It matters not whether you were an attendee, a presenter, or a keynote speaker. Having been any of these you will recognize and appreciate the skewers that Michael Frayn directs with an eye for the absurd at the pomposity of such meetings. However, if you have been an organizer, you might not enjoy Frayn's accurate spearing of the undertow that exists beneath the stated purpose of the conference. On the other hand, if you are a lover of well-written farce, this novel is definitely for you. You will revel in its twists and turns.

Dr. Norman Wilfred has been invited to the Greek island of Skios to present the keynote address to a world-renown foundation. There will be a keynote address because there is always a keynote speech. Wilfred, who is regarded as an eminent authority on scientific organization, presents as anything but that in this madcap send-up of conferences and expertise. He loses his luggage, his sangfroid, and, seemingly, recognition of who he is. The only thing he still has is the tattered pages of the speech he is to give. They are tattered because this is the same speech he always gives, changed only to reflect the specifics of the location of the conference. Somehow, Wilfred has arrived on the "wrong" end of the island, a balding, overweight person who has been delivered to the rapacious hands of Georgie, who was expecting to meet her lover.
Meanwhile, at the "right" end of the island, "Wilfred" has arrived at the conference. He is 30 years younger, handsome, physically fit, and gifted with a chameleon-like ability to roll with the punches and fit into any situation. A good listener, he allows the conference attendees to talk, thereby giving him the information he needs in order to inhabit his new persona. A born grifter, he quickly realizes that many benefits come with being "Wilfred," not the least of which is Nikki, the organizer of the conference and friend of Georgie. Fooling the self-important bigwigs turns out to be rather easy for Oliver Fox. Of course, a fox is sly and cunning.

The location on Skios adds to the layers of complexity and humor. According to the world of the novel, Skios is where Odysseus landed disguised as an itinerant knife grinder. The island was revealed as sacred to Athena, goddess of wisdom and civilization. This is more evidence that things are not as they seem to be.

You will smile knowingly, laugh, and roar out loud as you read this farcical romantic comedy. Multiple mistaken identities that lead to musical beds and mayhem are ultimately resolved and form the basis of the comedy. John Mortimer wrote, "Farce is tragedy played at a thousand revolutions per minute." Such a frenetic pace is a hallmark of a Michael Frayn comedy. Skios combines the best of two aspects of Michael Frayn's genius, the serious and the madcap.

Successful farce must have some sense of underlying truth or accuracy. See Frayn's dramatic play Copenhagen for the ultimate in truth and sober attention to drama. On the other hand, Mortimer's definition is best exemplified by Noises Off, a dramatic farce of the first order, the title being a play (no pun intended) on the noises that occur offstage and behind the scenes. Put these two together and you find Skios, which will provide you with food for thought and a bountiful dessert of belly laughs.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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