Thursday, September 13, 2012

Skios (2012) by Michael Frayn

Oliver Fox – charming but prone to extravagantly irresponsible behaviour – passes himself off as a famous visiting lecturer at an international event for the ultra-rich on the Greek island of the title. Three girls vie for his meagre attention span and are variously disappointed, while the real lecturer is frustrated in his rationalistic worldview which turns out to be ill suited to dealing with the unpredictable chain of events sparked by Oliver’s vagary. This is a very mild farce stretching the events of a day and a half over a couple hundred pages and reading a bit like a slowed-down movie, given the script-like sketchiness of description and characterization. It’s fitfully amusing, but never gels into a real novel. Frayn inserts some bits of post-modernist speculation on identity and predetermination but the flimsy material is not compelling enough to throw any new light on these rather tired subjects. A lot of the characters seem introduced on the off-chance of them being useful to the plot at a later stage, but no such need arises, and they are discarded without remorse. The ending draws a particularly shaky line under the whole effort: it reads almost like a declaration of failure. All the plot strands fizzle out in a single monumentally anticlimactic non-sequitur. Skios leaves the impression of a terribly lazy first draft, something that the author of Noises Off could have thrown together in a dentist’s waiting room.

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