The poet Wendy Cope recommended My Father's Fortune as one of the books of 2010 in the Observer's annual round-up and I bought the audiobook version on the strength of this, not having read any of Frayn's other work. The memoir starts rather slowly, with the opening chapters devoted to family genealogy from Edwardian censuses, but comes to life once Michael Frayn can act as eye-witness rather than historian. The book charts the varying fortunes of his father, an asbestos salesman who lived in Surrey in the 1940s and 1950s. By the end, I shared Cope's high opinion of the book.
Most striking are the contrasts in tone: the account of Michael Frayn's efforts at poetry as a schoolboy are hilarious (he quotes from a journal that he kept as a teenager which records the arguments about poetic technique he had with a school-friend). Yet there are also very moving passages which deal with his father's misfortunes - which I won't reveal here.
Frayn's book will I think become a classic "father and son" memoir in the tradition of Edmund Gosse, J.R. Ackerley and Blake Morrison.
The shifting moods of the book are brilliantly caught in Martin Jarvis's reading. Jarvis's voice will be familiar to many Radio 4 listeners, but he is also a consummately professional reader of audiobooks. Now in his late sixties, he is at the top of his game and peerless in English comic literature - his recent readings of P.G. Wodehouse are superb.
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