by Michael Frayn
2012 / 272 pages
rating:  8.5  (a 1/2 point for laughing)

Like the prior novels I’ve read by Frayn, a British playwright and novelist,  Skios is a wonder of complex plotting, human foibles,  con-artistry and hilarity.   Skios won a long-list nod for the Man Booker Prize this last year – his book Headlong ( 1999) won a short-list slot.  Spies, the other book I’ve read,  was also very, very good – that’s why I read Skios!  (heh)

Our lovable con-artist protagonist, Oliver Fox is supposed to meet his brand-new girlfriend Georgie on the island of Skios for a weekend at the villa of Fox’s main girlfriend,  Annuka Vos.

But the best plans seem to get way-laid for Oliver and at the airport a lovely girl,  Nikki, catches his eye and more importantly,  he catches hers.   She assumes him to be Dr. Norman Wilfred, celebrity scientist and circuit speaker who is to be the main speaker at the local,  but hugely prestigious, Foundation’s main annual event.  How can he resist?

So of course the good Doctor Wilfred arrives,  but can’t find his bags (Oliver took them) and ends up in a lodge on the other side of the island – Annuka’s.

Georgie just happens to be Nikki’s sister,  but Georgie thinks that Nikki is in Switzerland because of a misunderstanding.  Georgie arrives at the island and goes to Annuka’s villa.    There,  she assumes the body in the bed is that of Oliver – but no,  it’s the body of Dr. Wilfred.   (trouble – heh)

Oliver procedes to charm Nikki and the others attending the conference who all think he’s the good doctor.  Except perhaps the Foundation’s leader who has ensconced himself in apparently unending meditation in a very private suite on the upper level of the incredibly plush, Greek themed “resort.”

Oliver’s old girlfriend, Annuka Vos,  shows up on the island a bit miffed. Georgie thinks it’s the cleaning lady.

This all adds to so much confusion –  the plot thickens and builds.  How will everything get straightened out?

The structure flips back and forth between all the characters and unfolding scenarios (and I’ve skipped about 3 or 4).  Frayn’s style is perfectly attuned to the humor.  The point of view changes –  sometimes mid-stream – sometimes it only seems like it changed – it’s very well done.

“Because for the moment he was a living metaphor of the human condition. He knew not whence he came nor whither he was bound, nor what manner of man he was, nor why he was here at all.” (p. 38)
As so often in life, though, there was nowhere to go but on, and nothing to do but what you had so recklessly started doing.”   (p. 53)
“If he’s me, he thought, then I’ll be him. He lives my life— I live his.” (p. 203)
“He couldn’t tell a lie, he had told Nikki at the airport, but he could smile a lie and he could listen a lie.”  (p. 205)
“Each cause, he will almost certainly find it instructive to note, trails an effect at its heels like an obedient dog, each effect gratefully acknowledges a cause as its legitimate master. There is no room for any ridiculous impromptu interventions.”  (p. 242-243)


NY TIMES – Michiko Kakutani

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