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on 11 December 2012
Michael Frayn has said that Skios was a literary experiment to see if a farce could be written as a novel. The premise is that Dr Norman Wilfred, a distinguished academic, is to give a lecture on 'scientometrics' at a research foundation on a Greek island. When Dr Wilfred arrives at the venue, he turns out to be suspiciously young and charming. The explanation is that he is not Dr Wilfred, but Oliver Fox, a floppy-haired Hugh Grant-type character, who decided to impersonate Dr Wilfred after seeing Nikki Hook, the attractive administrator who came to meet the visiting speaker at the airport.

Apart from mistaken identity, many other familiar devices of the genre are present: lost clothing, thwarted romantic designs, preparations for a public event which is bound to go awry. It is all firmly in the Wodehouse tradition.

Skios is elegantly written and, particularly in the first half, pretty funny. Frayn is good on the fatuousness of so many lectures of this type (well captured by the title of Dr Wilfred's talk: 'Innovation and Governance: The Promise of Scientometrics').

But Frayn's literary experiment is not, I think, entirely successful. Although some relaxation of the laws of probability is inevitable in a farce, the events related here go beyond the frontier of the merely improbable into the land of the frankly incredible. Too often the reader finds themselves saying, in Victor Meldrew style, 'I don't believe it!'.

The other weakness is the ending, which is unsatisfying and arbitrary. It is almost as if Frayn simply lost patience with assembling the intricate Swiss watch of his plot and simply threw the thing against the wall.
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on 16 September 2012
Unlike many of the other reviewers here, I didn't buy this expecting great literature or stylistic finesse to rival Proust or Henry James. I found what I wanted - an entertaining read that is light without insulting my intelligence, and plenty of humour, not least in the form of parody (possibly missed by reviewer Not_Stoppard?). I raced through this book, enjoying it greatly almost to the end (the denouement is weak after the tautness of the plotting in the first three-quarters of the book). I can honestly say that I laughed out loud several times, and my biggest disappointment, apart from the handling of the ending, was that it was all over too soon!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 August 2012
Set on a Greek island, a cultural foundation is preparing for the biggest event in its year at which renowned academic Dr Norman Wilfred is due to give the keynote speech. Also heading to the island on the same plane is Oliver Fox, a morally vacant but charming Lothario, who has arranged an assignation with a girl who he has met for only five minutes but has invited to spend a week with him at the villa that he was due spend a week with his ex-girlfriend before she threw him out. But when the girl send to collect Dr Wilfred from the airport, Nikki, turns out to be irresistibly charming Oliver decides to play the role of Dr Wilfred and follow her to the foundation while the real Dr Wilfred, minus luggage is transported to the villa at the other end of the island. Someone still has to give the speech though - will it be the real Dr Wilfred or the fake Dr Wilfred?

As you will have gathered this has all the ingredients for a good, old-fashioned farce. Michael Frayn is as well placed as anyone to explore this now somewhat neglected genre, having written the superb farce play "Noises Off" as well as the screenplay for the John Cleese vehicle "Clockwise". The question remains as to whether the farce genre can work as successfully as a comic novel. Frayn is very far from a one genre practitioner but it's hard to think of any modern writer who is as well versed in the nuances of farce. If anyone can pull it off, it is going to be him.

However, not even a writer of Frayn's undoubted gifts can get quite get this to work successfully. Having said that, it would make a fine holiday read - it's light, easy reading with pleasant doses of humour, although even here, the ending is likely to prove a little disappointing.

There are innumerable challenges a farce writer faces. One of these is that in an age of modern communications, the situations that farce relies upon of misunderstanding are just so unlikely as to seem quaint. Thus, Frayn spends much time explaining why mobile phones aren't working - dead batteries, no charger, thrown in pool etc. Farce also relies on a certain suspension of belief that works fine in a theatre or a cinema where the time period is finite. Although this is a fairly light book, it's not a one-sitting read and this makes it more difficult to sustain this disbelief for the duration.

It's almost wholly lacking in characterisation too and what there is consists of lightly drawn, cliché stereotypes. Again this isn't a problem so much with say a film, but detracts from a book. Much as you might thoroughly enjoy the film "Clockwise", try explaining it to someone who hasn't seen it and conveying the same enjoyment. It's simply impossible without the visual input provided by, in this case Cleese. So too "Skios" seems to need actors to bring these characters to life. Here we have two taxi drivers who are always mistaken for each other - on screen this could be a nice running gag, but here it's just too predictable and obvious.

For all that, Frayn is a master of his art and maintains a pace that is impressive as disaster follows disaster and the plot development is admirably complicated. As you would expect given his experience in screen writing and play writing he has a good ear for dialogue, but the descriptions verge on tired and cliché at several points. To some extent expectations are unfairly raised by the book's inclusion on this year's Booker list. It's not Frayn's fault that he is nominated but it's far from his best literary work. For that, check out "Spies" or "Headlong".

As a holiday read, I'd recommend it with a warning that the ending might disappoint (although with such a build up it's difficult to live up to a satisfying ending). As a Booker nominee though, it's not even Frayn's best work and far from one of the twelve best novels of the year in my view. It would, though, make a pleasingly entertaining movie one feels.
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VINE VOICEon 29 April 2012
Just the ticket for a rainy afternoon or a long plane journey. Improbability follows improbability but Michael Frayn writes so well youll gladly suspend disbelief! Lots of laugh out loud moments, and it would make a superb film. Great fun, silly nonsense, but somehow classy at the same time.
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on 8 June 2012
Oh dear. What has this writer done with the real Michael Frayn and please will he release him? This novel seems to have been written in a hurry to capture the Euro-meltdown-zeitgeist. Has the brilliant award-winning playwright and novelist really written these lines:

'His tumbled dish-mop of hair was as blond as blanched almonds, his soft eyes as brown and shining as dates. His thoughts though were as black as the tumbled black wheelie bags...' and on and on...

We get 'tumbling gardens and hillsides...cascades of well-watered bougainvillaea...the dazzle of the sea' ad nauseum like a very bad creative writing essay.

As for his characters, they go beyond stereotypes, speaking with a formality (e.g. what young person in the real world says 'lavatory'?) that bears little resemblance to the 21st century most of us inhabit. There are too many similes and lazy metaphors that pad out the pages.

Maybe this novel was created with a cynical eye on a screenplay for hammy actors doing their best cameo roles - American social climber, sinister Russian, crude Greek cabbie, world-weary academic etc. Of course, it could be argued that the farcical plot is what the reader should focus on and enjoy. But it's so old, so hackneyed, so tired. There was nothing new or clever or engaging. Lots of people running around in a mixed-up frenzied fashion doesn't automatically mean the narrative has energy. I felt angry reading this book.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 April 2012
British comedian and author Michael Frayn has written "Skios", a rollicking and sly farce set at a private resort on Skios, located in the Greek Isles. As with most farces, the characters are usually not who they say they are. And the situations they get into are not plausible. But there's something about a funny book full of people who you would not want to meet - if you were drunk or sober - that makes even the grumpiest reader want to know what happens and to whom it happens.

It's impossible for a reviewer to write about the plot of "Skios", because basically, there IS no plot. Just misunderstandings and false identities and the gorgeous island countryside. But that's okay for the self-selected reader. Enjoy Skios and the ensuing madness.
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VINE VOICEon 17 June 2012
Michael Frayn's 'Spies' is one of my favourite novels. It is beautifully written and paced and offers an intriguing story with a completely unexpected twist. So I was looking for something as good in 'Skios' even though I read that it was a farce (more in the mould of Frayn's work for the stage). I also read the Amazon reviews, which were not universally good, but I don't always agree with those. Sadly the bad ones were accurate. This is a brief little farce, unlikely, silly, lightweight. There are two jokes which are worn to death by repetition, one based on the misunderstanding of one of the participant's names as pronounced by a Greek taxi driver, and one based on the fact that one of the main characters is either called Wilfrid Norman, or Norman Wilfrid, which in any case doesn't seem to matter to anyone anyway There is some amusement to be had from the wonderful names dreamt up for the - mostly American - bit part players in the drama, and there are some excellent descriptions of hot, drowsy Greek evenings. The ending, which the reader probably doesn't see coming because of the trail of false clues Frayn leaves, is about as exciting as tepid custard; we really cannot bring ourselves to care, so what was doubtless intended as an iinteresting twist seems like a very damp squib. The tale looks as if it was thrown together in a hurry; a little potboiler or something dashed off to a deadline. It seemed odd for such a book to be published by Faber, and I was sorely disappointed. Sorry Mr Frayn - 'Spies' is still one of my favourites though !
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Ever since I read Frayn's Towards the End of the Morning and watched his play Noises Off, I have been a fan. His Skios takes a similarly ironic and humorous stance (he has written other more serious books) and is a cracking read. It also (a familiar Frayn tactic)debunks many myths re. academia (I am a lecturer!), celeb-culture, ageism, tourism and event management.

Ideal for holiday reading!
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on 4 April 2013
I have never been so disappointed in a novel especially from such a well know author. The story is awful and childish with a weak plot that a child could have thought up. I can only hope that he has now given up writing as I am annoyed that I have wasted over £7 on my Kindle download
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on 5 April 2013
Look I will admit some parts are extremely funny especially at the beginning but I know that Michael Frayn has wriiten far better books; "Spies" and "My Father's Fortune" spring to mind. I can't help but feel that "Skios" is more a script for a future play or film.
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