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  • Skios
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on 14 October 2013
Oliver Fox intends to spend his summer on the Greek island of Skios in the company of someone else's girlfriend but his plan seems thwarted when Georgie (AKA girlfriend belonging to someone other than Oliver) misses her flight. Faced with the prospect of having to spend twenty-four hours on his own, Oliver does what any other sensible person would do and switches identities with Doctor Norman Wilfred, noted scientometrics expert, at the airport. Unfortunately, poor Doctor Wilfred isn't in on the switch and so is greatly perplexed to find himself (minus his luggage) stranded at an isolated villa with (yep, she managed to get a flight after all but is still someone else's girlfriend) Georgie while Oliver Fox is living it up as a distinguished speaker at the Fred Toppler Foundation's annual lecture.

Skios is Michael Frayn's attempt at capturing the classic British farce in novel form and it is a pretty successful attempt at that. It's a fun, frivolous novel with quite a bit to laugh at even if the story is ultimately rather unsatisfactory. Oliver Fox is an entertaining rogue and Doctor Wilfred is a good foil for his machinations. The major problem is that the misunderstandings and miscommunications on which the story depends could really only come about is the island of Skios is in a more unfortunate communication situation than the Bermuda Triangle. Indeed, Frayn does spend a lot of time explaining just why people's mobile phones are not working. There are a lot of coincidences that would perhaps work better in a film than in a novel. Saying that, the engaging characters and moments of humour would make Skios a good, light holiday read.
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on 19 August 2015
I bought this because I've seen some of Frayn's farces in the theatre and thoroughly enjoyed them. As a farce I think the book works relatively well, and if you want a holiday read, this is about the right level. It's literature 'lite'. I wasn't engrossed, but it just about kept my interest up. However - and this is a big however - the ending is DREADFUL. It's a total cop out. In fact I found it quite distasteful. I totally agree with another reviewer who said it seemed that Frayn just gave up. Having tried to weave a comedy of errors of a plot, the end is almost as if it belongs to another book - there is zero comedy. For that reason, sadly, I wouldn't bother reading this.
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But sustaining its crazy off the wall zaniness clearly takes great skill.

Oliver Fox, soxy cheery chancer; just can't resist a pretty lady, an opportunity to try his luck, then to blag his way though the mess and yet emerge unscathed to fight another day.

Dr. Normal Wilfred is another kettle of fish. He is so serious, so stuck up his own bee tee emm that life just has to throw him up in the air, shake him about and rearrange him. It's all in the lap of the gods on the Greek Island of Skios. The stage is set.

At the airport, well, there's a mix up. Top class farce that is anything but Brian Rix slips on the first banana skin and whoosh we're off to learn which way is up the mountain to the posh villa or down to the seafront, the home of the highly cilivised `Fred Toppler Foundation'. Taxis driven by Stavros and Spiros skid about Skios with their confused passengers.

Georgie and Nikki, two old school friends, imagine they are in different countries - their mobiles ring out desperate pleas from locked bathrooms with dangers lurking outside from poor Georgie to Cool Nikki who somehow misses the point. She is already swooning about the eminent lecturer due to deliver his opus in the agora, how can he be so young and beautiful?

Naughtiness bubbles and sparkles from behind villa shutters, behind fences. No one is who they seem. However will it turn out? Read it and enjoy a few hours off from everyday, the story fizzes along and ends all too soon.
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VINE VOICEon 31 December 2012
When I began this novel, I thought it was going to be really entertaining; amusing, well-written, with some really funny moments. But those moments soon began to pall as the story rapidly descended into a complicated farce. The accidental exchange of suitcases at a Greek airport led to a case of mistaken identity, and thus the middle-aged academic, who was supposed to be giving a prestigious annual lecture, found himself changing places with the feckless young man who was after some nooky in a seaside villa with a girl he barely knew. The plot was further spiced up by two identical taxi drivers (twins?) and the arrival of a cast of similarly unbelievable characters. The only one I had any sympathy for at all was poor beleaguered Nikki, who was in charge of the conference, but even she turned out to be as incompetent as the others. As for the ending, it felt rushed, and somewhat anti-climactic, leaving at least one of the central characters' fate uncertain.

Some of the plot reminded me of those complicated operas where people are all in disguise, and spend their time jumping out of windows and hiding from each other. And in fact, as other readers have commented, I think this novel would have worked far better as a screenplay, where the characters could really have come to life.

In conclusion, I feel that had the author been able to keep up the level of humour shown at the begining, or had the characters been more than two-dimensional, I might have enjoyed this novel more. As it was, in the end I struggled to finish it. But the writing is good, as always, and some of the descriptions of the Greek island setting really hit the spot; hence three stars rather than the two I was tempted to give it.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 May 2012
Literary fiction and farce don't make particularly comfortable bedfellows, even in the hands of as skilled an author as Michael Frayn. Usually a reliably excellent author, for me this latest novel of his didn't hit the mark. Ludicrous coincidence follows even more ludicrous coincidence in what is meant to be a hilarious comedy of errors. Except it's not remotely funny.

One of the problems is the characters. I didn't care about what happened to any of them. The principal characters are either shallow, scheming, or both, and generally dislikable. Even the more sympathetic characters aren't well enough drawn to let the reader empathise with them. What's worse is the host of stereotyped supporting characters - stereotypes often based on race, which is never something I want to see in a book. The dodgy Russian oligarch, the overweight and slightly lecherous Greek taxi drivers, the gauche American heiress trying to buy class... you get the picture. For goodness sake, if an author has to write horrible cliches then they could at least base them on something other than the person's country of origin - it's the 21st century. Of course, it might be that the author is trying to poke fun at those very cliches - but because the story isn't funny and the characters never do anything to confound those stereotypes, that really isn't the impression that comes across.

I know it's a farce and you're supposed to suspend your disbelief, but I really struggled. If it was better written, I might have been so swept up in the story I could have done so. But as it was every coincidence jarred even more painfully as the story wore on. The conclusion is rushed, nonsensical and several plot threads are left completely unresolved. I also found the very light handling of the tragic events at the conclusion to feel inappropriate and inplausible. If you want your novel to be enjoyed as a comic farce, keep it light - or at least give proper weight to the darker elements.

The frustrating thing is that Michael Frayn is capable of so much better than this. It just feels very lazy - the stereotypes, the deux ex machina, the failure to follow through on some of the plotlines. In Headlong he wrote a story that bordered on farce, but was genuinely brilliant because a) it was actually funny, b) you cared about the characters, and c) it was original. Maybe he was trying to reproduce that success here, but somewhere things went badly wrong.

If you're new to Frayn, read Spies or Headlong first, so you don't get put off. If you're a Frayn fan already, just be warned to lower your expectations before this offering.
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on 19 February 2013
"Longlisted for the Booker Prize" says the tagline on the cover, which is hardly in the "Now an International Bestseller" category, and rightly so. For a writer of Frayn's delicate skill, and someone capable of crafting a book like "A Landing on the Sun" this is a disappointment. Perhaps no farce is capable of hitting the dizzy heights of 4 or 5 stars anyway but there is something wearying in the wild accelerations of the plot until seemingly all characters are in taxis dashing madly from one side of the fictional island to the other avoiding each other on the way (and, of course, their luggage). But even Frayn seems to lose patience with the chaos, and the last chapter is a peculiar existential commentary on the action, viewed with detachment by the author, who, like Zeus, cannot quite make his mind up what terrible fates to bestow on his characters below. In the end he seemingly decides to throw all the outcomes into the air and leaves without even waiting to see how they fall. If the writer has lost all interest by this point imagine how us the poor readers must feel!
I can only conclude that the Sunday Times Reviewer who was reduced to "tears of laughter" by this panic ridden dash around Skios was either on drugs or, more likely a rather nice retainer from the publisher.
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on 17 June 2012
Michael Frayn is probably best known for his novel Spies although he has written lots of different novels, plays, articles and non-fiction books too. Spies is one of those books I have known about and been interested in for a long time but somehow never gotten around to actually reading. Part of the reason I accepted the request to read Skios was because I thought it being a review book would make me read it rather than just putting it on my to be read pile, and if I liked it I might actually get around to reading Spies.

I suppose Frayn's reputation made me expect quite a lot from this book, maybe to much. It's not that I didn't enjoy it exactly but I didn't think it was some amazing piece of work either. For quite a while I found it just a bit absurd. There were just to many confusions and to many coincidences. Once I just accepted that it was going to be a bit absurd however I did start to enjoy it quite a lot more. I still found that characters and the situation a little stupid but I was more able to see the humour in it all, and it certainly made me start to laugh. In fact I think that's why it was so absurd, not so much to make a story but to make a bit of entertainment, you just hjad to laugh at how absurd it was or you would be despairing! By the end it actually got so absurd I even got the sense that Frayn was just taking the Micky out of himself- or maybe even out of novels in general- I mean it's all made up really isn't it? Or maybe I just wanted there to be something behind the absurdity!

Certainly I would say it's enjoyable if you're not going to take it to seriously, if you want to read a serious novel though go for something else because you really won't like this one!
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on 13 May 2015
The redeeming features - the author's command of the English language is very good, the type face is pleasing and the binding is such that it is easy to read in bed. The first half is reasonable and then it goes downhill. Do not expect the promised laughter and hilarity promised by the reviews on the cover - I nearly giggled once on page 188. This farce might just have been acceptable if performed as a short play by a village Am-dram society to a very supportive audience or maybe as a 50 page short story, but in both cases a dramatic re-working of the end would have been necessary. Infortunately, as a lengthy novel it is a failure.
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on 29 January 2014
A farce is necessarily a contract between writer and reader in which the latter must suspend disbelief for the length of the story, whilst holding their nerve and trusting in the skills of the author. They in turn must repay that trust with a rumbustious tale with a big ending that is dramatic/funny/complete enough to justify the huge suspension of disbelief. Sadly, the esteemed Michael Frayn is in breach of contract here, because after an interesting enough build-up, a suitably mixed-bag of characters (including Spiros/Stavros - his version of Dromio in this new Comedy of Errors), an aspirational setting, and plenty of beyond-belief misunderstandings, Skios's end is as flat as the pitta bread in a Greek taverna by the Mediterranean. This should never have got anywhere near the Booker Long List.
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on 1 November 2013
If you love Michael Frayn's farces on the stage such as "Noises Off" you'll just love this book. If you are a realist, an intensely practical person you may not! Even so the more pages you turn of this page-turning book, the more immersed you become in the frantic antics and desperate moves of the characters dragged into the story when the wrong suitcase is picked up at the airport and the ensuing chaos, then the more the book will amuse and intrigue. A very clever plot is enhanced by the clear understanding of Greek island life and the different characteristics of the English and Greek nationalities. Does a farce work as a novel? Yes, I think in this case it certainly does and what's more the book works as a holiday read.
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