2012 Book 126: Skios, by Michael Frayn (8/29/2012)
Reason for Reading: I’m trying to get through at least SOME of the Booker longlist before the winner is announced. This is one of the 5 easily available in the US, and one of the 3 which is available in audiobook format (since I seem to be limited in my ability to physically read books lately, this seemed the best place to start).
Dr. Norman Wilfred has flown to Skios to give a distinguished speech to a group of rich academics at the Toppler Foundation. Due to an unfortunate string of coincidences, he is whisked off to a villa while a con artist, Oliver Fox, takes his place at the Toppler gathering. At first blush, this may seem to be only a farcical comedy of errors. Fun is poked at the distinguished empty-headedness of academia, at silly assumptions people make when they don’t have all the information (which, of course, they never do), and at the openness of people to accept whatever is said–as long as it is said by a charismatic person. However, I can see why this book was chosen for the Booker longlist–upon a more careful reading this book has a much deeper undercurrent. It asks questions about identity and about chance Eureka! moments. I found the ease with with Oliver Fox moved into Norman Wilfred’s life almost believable because that IS how academia works sometimes. Sometimes, it IS more about how charming you are than about what’s actually coming out of your mouth. Sometimes it IS more about your name and about who people think you are than about who you ACTUALLY are. I understand that this book isn’t for everybody…but I’m a person who doesn’t generally read farcical novels, and I enjoyed this one immensely.