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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Skios

by
Michael Frayn


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Skios



Title: Skios
Author: Michael Frayn
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012
Length: 257 pages
Availability: Skios - US
Skios - UK
Skios - Canada
Skios - India
Willkommen auf Skios - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B : amusing trifle; look forward to the film version

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 22/7/2012 Peter Craven
Entertainment Weekly A- 20/6/2012 Lisa Schwarzbaum
The Guardian B 26/4/2012 Theo Tait
Independent on Sunday . 27/5/2012 Christian House
London Rev. of Books . 24/5/2012 Thomas Jones
New Statesman D 9/5/2012 Leo Robson
The NY Times B 28/6/2012 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 17/6/2012 Alex Witchel
The Scotsman . 26/5/2012 Michael Prodger
The Telegraph . 3/5/2012 Anthony Cummins
TLS . 6/7/2012 Edmund Gordon
The Washington Post A- 18/7/2012 Michael Dirda


  Review Consensus:

  Most quite amused, even if the farce-approach creaks a bit on the page

  From the Reviews:
  • "It's true that it all seems to take place in some 1970s of the male mind, but it's civilised, silly and full of snaps of reality in pursuit of the ridiculous. What more do you want ? Art ? Life ?" - Peter Craven, The Age

  • "Frayn, the author of the spectacular '80s Broadway farce-about-a-farce Noises Off, is so devilishly good at clicking the pieces into place that watching him build his contraption is its own entertainment, compensating for the ultimately minor heft of the story and its gentle satiric aims." - Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

  • "It is not, it has to be said, an entirely successful experiment. It lands Frayn with characters who are genre-bound and tinny: bland romantic leads supported by by-the-numbers comic foreigners. They seem to want actors to flesh them out, to gurn amusingly and perform pratfalls on their behalf. I suspect also that farce is best taken at one sitting: it needs concentrated attention to reach a hysterical pitch. Skios, though short, is too long for that. Though this is clearly not one of Frayn's best, it doesn't demand much, and it has a lot of incidental charm." - Theo Tait, The Guardian

  • "A whistle-stop tour of the plot takes in an exhausting tick list of misinterpretations, unlikely connections, saucy situations and dubious psychology. (...) Of course, the storyline has all the bottom-slapping subtlety of 'Allo 'Allo, and yet Frayn's keen ear for dialogue and acute understanding of twisted internal reasoning pulls it back from the end of the pier. (...) If you suspend your disbelief at the title page you'll no doubt chuckle along to the end, but somehow that doesn't seem to be enough of a result from a writer of Frayn's standing." - Christian House, Independent on Sunday

  • "Michael Fraynís new novel is an attempt, not exactly doomed from the start though botched in the execution, to borrow devices associated with one narrative form and put them to work in another. (...) The chaos of stage farce is replicated all right; what is missing is a sense of how easily, how invisibly, such things can occur. (...) It isnít just that the narrative wheels are visible, itís that they are visible in the moment of being greased." - Leo Robson, New Statesman

  • "The novel is immensely entertaining, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but itís also a pretty flimsy production, with an unsatisfying and jerry-built conclusion. (...) Its many coincidences often feel entirely stage-managed, and both the setup for the novelís conclusion and the ending itself are lumbering and forced. Its heroes too feel two-dimensional, like characters in a sketchily drawn play, desperately in need of talented actors to flesh out their personalities. All in all, an amusing but second-rate novel from one of Britainís funniest writers." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "So much of his new novel, Skios, is so expertly written and such genuine fun, it seems ill-mannered to quibble about the dubious premise. (...) Mayhem ensues. Along the way, Frayn tosses off all manner of entertaining commentary. (...) Frayn is such good company, you hate for the story to end" - Alex Witchel, The New York Times Book Review

  • "It is all riotously silly; the characters are broadly caricatures, the locals are comic foreigners straight from central casting (...), and the coincidences go beyond the limits of implausibility. Frayn, however, marshals every strand and player with seamless adroitness and winds the "great gear-chain of cause and effect" mercilessly. The result is a wonderfully diverting entertainment" - Michael Prodger, The Scotsman

  • "Ditmussís fruitless badgering shows us how not to read Skios: it isnít a novel for pedants. (...) But thatís the point: we believe what we want to believe. So, in that spirit, I refuse to accept that Frayn has produced something below par here. That heís incapable of writing a line that isnít beautifully cadenced certainly does no harm to his case." - Anthony Cummins, The Telegraph

  • "Frayn engineers his plot with all the liveliness and ingenuity youíd expect. It is satisfying enough when viewed purely as a mechanism, and even if it does depend on the characters suffering implausible failures of intelligence (...) Perhaps his insistence on the thematic seriousness of Skios is a way of avoiding a direct return to the territory of his early work; but moving in the direction of philosophical reflection was always going to lead him down a dead-end." - Edmund Gordon, Times Literary Supplement

  • "To my mind, Frayn slightly hurries through the finale of his book, but even then he certainly doesnít scant the farcical fireworks. This is one of the most amusingly complicated novels since David Lodgeís Small World." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Michael Frayn proved himself a master of farce with the classic Noises Off, and in Skios he tries to stage-manage comedy in a similar way -- here with mistaken identities and the crisscrossing of fates, luggage, telephones, and identities. But Skios is a novel, and farce is much more difficult to play purely on the page; ultimately Skios reads like the novelization of a very funny movie, rather than an original novel. It's still pretty funny -- but also feels, in this presentation, somewhat forced.
       Skios is set on the eponymous Greek island, where the Fred Toppler Foundation has its grand estate. Every year they host the Fred Toppler Lecture, "one of the highlights of the Greek cultural calendar", when the wealthy and influential assemble here. The Foundation was set up and is headed by Fred Toppler's widow, the former show-girl Bahama LeStarr whom the then-eighty-one year old Toppler met in Las Vegas, pursued, married, and then -- after: "Six weeks of true love" -- conveniently left with his millions by dying. The foundation is run by Christian Schneck, though he is stepping down and moving on soon, leaving the Foundation looking for a director; Vasilis Papadopoulou is an important benefactor and patron of the foundation -- though he also uses it for his own purposes, which apparently includes some money laundering, the excavation of a large 'swimming pool' on site, and dealing with members of the Russian oligarchy.
       Nikki Hook, Mrs. Toppler's personal assistant, is the one in charge of everything to do with the lecture, and she hopes it is a great success, which should put her on the fast track to the soon-to-be-vacant director post. The speaker this year is Dr. Norman Wilfred, who will be giving a talk on 'Innovation and Governance: The Promise of Scientometrics'. Nikki is the one who goes to the airport to pick the distinguished guest up, too; unfortunately, Wilfred's luggage resembles that of another passenger, who takes Wilfred's, and so he is somewhat delayed. Meanwhile, Oliver Fox, here to hook up with a woman who has missed her flight, is the one who mistakenly takes Wilfred's bag -- and who, when he sees friendly Nikki smiling and holding up a card with 'Dr. Norman Wilfred' on it allows her to believe that he is the man she is looking for.
       Ladies' man Oliver juggles women left and right but isn't quite happy in his own skin, so being in someone else's seems like a fun change of pace -- and he's a smooth enough operator that he can get away with it for quite a while as he learns what he's gotten himself into and what's expected of him.
       Meanwhile, Dr.Wilfred finds himself led off to the out-of-the way villa where Oliver was planning to stay, completing the reversal of roles. It takes him a while to catch on that he's not where he is meant to be, but setting things right proves more complicated, especially since he's lost his luggage. The appearance of the woman Oliver was planning to spend his time with -- who happens to know Nikki from way back when -- further complicates matters.
       But, of course, the complications are what makes for the story here, and Frayn juggles them nicely. You can practically see it unfold on the screen ... where it would probably be a bit more amusing (indeed, very funny) to follow.
       The action covers a very short time -- little more than a day, in all -- but there's a frenzy of activity and comings and goings. With its own writer-in-residence at the Foundation, near complete look-alike taxi drivers, party/lecture-crashing guests who have no idea where they've wound up, and a behind-the-scenes reason why some folk are so eager for one and all to be assembled at the lecture and not have their attention diverted elsewhere, Frayn layers it on nice and thick.
       It's all quite well done, yet too much feels like the description of the movie, Frayn unable to make the transition entirely from his play-writing to novel-writing (somewhat surprisingly, since he's proven himself an adept novelist, too). It is very good fun as a light pass-time read -- but one really hopes they've already gone into production with the movie-version: that could be hilarious.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 June 2012

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Links:

Skios: Reviews: Michael Frayn: Other books by Michael Frayn under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See the index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       British author Michael Frayn was born in 1933. He is best known as a playwright. He has also written several acclaimed novels.

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© 2012 the complete review

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