I have just finished reading Michael Frayn’s novel ‘Skios’. I loved it! It is an (almost farcical) comedy, yet with a serious point, if you care to look at it that way.
The basic plot involves two entirely different men who swap identities at the airport on the imaginary Greek island of Skios. One, the happy-go-lucky, up-for-anything Oliver Fox, sees a sign for one ‘Dr Norman Wilfred’ being held up by an attractive young woman and decides to take a chance, adopting the mantle of the esteemed academic, who is guest speaker of honour at the illustrious Fred Toppler Foundation. Meanwhile the ‘real’ Dr Wilfred unwittingly becomes Oliver Fox.
There follows a chain of hilarious consequences, in which Oliver Fox finds it remarkably easy to step into Dr Wilfred’s shoes, and soon has everyone at the Fred Toppler Foundation hanging on his every word. Meanwhile, Dr Wilfred becomes increasingly perplexed, finding himself marooned in a high-end holiday villa with a hysterical woman who appears to think that he is a rapist.
Despite the farcical elements of ‘Skios’, the plot is almost believable, which is what makes the book so funny. Frayn takes a stab at the world of academia, highlighting the fact that, once you’re well established, people will worship you, no matter how ridiculous the things you say. He also subtly questions the relevance of (some) academic theories to everyday life, as illustrated by the following extract: '...There was never any point in replying to this kind of nonsense. Except to make one small simple point. "Thirteen point seven billion years ago," he said." / He suddenly went blind...Her towel, he saw, as it fell off and the world returned. / "And that," she said. "You saw that coming, did you? Thirteen point seven billion years ago?"'
I would recommend ‘Skios’ very highly, especially if you’re looking for a short, funny and not too taxing read. With laugh-out-loud lines such as: '"Are any of us, in fact, anybody?" said somebody', how can you resist?