What’s it all about?:
On the private Greek island of Skios, the high-paying guests of a world-renowned foundation prepare for the annual keynote address, to be given this year by Dr. Norman Wilfred, an eminent authority on the scientific organization of science. He turns out to be surprisingly youthful, handsome, and charming—quite unlike his reputation as dry and intimidating. Everyone is soon eating out of his hands. So, even sooner, is Nikki, the foundation’s attractive and efficient organizer.
Meanwhile, in a remote villa at the other end of the island, Nikki’s old friend Georgie has rashly agreed to spend a furtive horizontal weekend with a notorious schemer, who has characteristically failed to turn up. Trapped there with her instead is a pompous, balding individual called Dr. Norman Wilfred, who has lost his whereabouts, his luggage, his temper, and increasingly all sense of reality—indeed, everything he possesses other than the text of a well-travelled lecture on the scientific organization of science.
What did I think?:
I haven’t read anything by Michael Frayn before although I have heard a lot of good things, so when this novel was long-listed for the Man Booker prize last year I thought I’d give it a go. The story is about a bizarre and amusing mix up when Oliver Fox, a young man bored with his life and looking for some excitement decides to pretend to be someone else. Except that someone else is an emminent lecturer who is due to give a talk to some V.I.P’s at the Fred Toppler foundation. Meanwhile, the real Dr Norman Wilfred ends up with Oliver’s baggage, at the villa Oliver was meant to be going to, with a hysterical woman who after climbing into bed with him (expecting him to be Oliver obviously) locks herself in the bathroom accusing him of being a rapist!
Other characters include Nikki, the organiser of the keynote speech who is pleasantly surprised and pleased with herself on meeting the younger, fake, and very charming Dr Wilfred (Oliver). Does Oliver pull it off? Considerably well, considering he knows absolutely nothing about Dr Wilfred’s work or life, with a few cringeworthy moments when the game is almost given away. For me though, this book was lacking something… the humour was refreshing and quintessentially British, but it seemed to lose its way at the end slightly. I can see why it was long-listed for the Man Booker prize, but I can also see why it may not have won. It wouldn’t stop me reading something else by Michael Frayn however, as I enjoyed his writing style and characterisation.
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):