“Skios” by Michael Frayn

“Skios” by Michael Frayn   (2012) – 257 pages


Even madcap comedies require some intensity.  Michael Frayn handles this comic novel “Skios” expertly at the technical level.  All the comic details unroll and fit together.  However the main things missing from “Skios” are any soul or any evidence of authorial passion.      

 “Skios” is a zany romp, a bedroom farce with mistaken identities, mixed-up luggage, switched cell phones, and so on.  The novel takes place on the fictional Greek island of Skios at the philanthropic Fred Toppler Foundation.  It is the weekend of their annual Great European House Party, and their staff and especially organizer Nikki Hook are eagerly awaiting their guest speaker for the Fred Toppler Lecture, Dr. Norman Whitfield.  Of course no one at the foundation has actually met Dr. Norman Whitfield, and so the fun begins.

 First of all is the Fred Toppler Foundation.  The Foundation and their Guest Lecture are just too easy targets for any meaningful satire, so all we have left is wackiness.  I’m not saying every comedy must be intensely emotional for the author.  It just seems to me that the author should have some totally involving issue at stake while writing and not just an excuse to sleepwalk through the plot.   I kept thinking about “Lucky Jim” by Kingsley Amis, a novel I consider probably the greatest madcap comic novel.  What propelled Kingsley Amis was his very real intense contempt for most of his characters in “Lucky Jim”.  In “Skios” I didn’t notice any evidence of strong feelings either way for any of the characters.  The characters in “Skios” are likeable I suppose, but it would be difficult for anyone to actually care about any of them.    

 Without any passion from the writer, all the antic proceedings became tiresome for this reader.  Ultimately it was up to me to stay awake to finish the novel, since Michael Frayn apparently stayed awake to write the novel.

8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by acommonreaderuk on November 16, 2012 at 8:17 AM

    I got this from the library some months ago and I’m afraid I gave up on it – it just didn’t interest me somehow – funny that you found much the same. Frayn has written some excellent books in the past so perhaps he’s allowed a not so good one from time to time.


    • Hi Tom,
      Yeah, I didn’t think Frayn had any real interest in this book beyond writing a madcap comedy. The material seemed old to me without any reason for compelling interest. I thought that ‘A Hologram for the King’ was a much more engaging novel where the author took a real interest in it’s subject matter and still being a wild comedy.


  2. I came to the same conclusion that you did Tony though your review was more succint than my attempts – http://allthingsbooker.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/review-skios-by-michael-frayn/
    I’ve enjoyed two other Frayn novels so this was a huge disappointment


    • Hi kheenand,
      I must have read ‘Noises Off’ a long time ago, and I think I saw the movie too. For whatever reason, his work hasn’t been too memorable for me, but I figured since “Skios” was on the Booker longlist, I’d give it a try.


  3. I gave up on this novel without finishing it. Frayn has shown a tremendous dramatic range with madcap comedy in Noises Off and imaginative biography in Copenhagen, but your comments on the shortcomings of this novel reflect my own reaction.


    • Hi Fay,
      Your description of “Copenhagen” as an inaginative biography sounds intriguing. That is one of my favorite genres, fictional biographies, much more than madcap comedies. It sounds like quite a few people gave up on Skios.


  4. Awww, I liked it!
    Maybe I was just in a frivolous mood after reading some 18th century philosophy?


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