keskiviikko 1. toukokuuta 2013

Michael Frayn: Skios

Good God, thought Oliver, as he saw her smile. She thinks I'm him!
And all at once he knew it was so. He was Dr Norman Wilfred. He saw his life as Dr Norman Wilfred stretching in front of him like a golden pathway into the rising sun. He had no choice but to walk along that pathway, towards the warmth, towards the light.
So he did, pulling his suitcase behind him.

Have you ever considered picking up a random suitcase off of the baggage carousel at an airport? Or thought of impersonating one of the people whose exotic and mysterious names are held up on the signs in the arrivals lounge? This novel just might inspire you to do so... :)

Oliver Fox, an impulsive young man who is always on the lookout for adventure, trouble or both, arrives on the Greek island of Skios, planning to stay at a villa with a girl he has met only once before ("for five minutes"). On the same flight arrives Dr Norman Wilfred, a distinguished scientist who has come to Skios to give a lecture on his field of expertise, scientometrics.

When Oliver accidentally picks up Dr Norman Wilfred's suitcase from the baggage carousel and sees the beautiful Nikki Hook in the arrivals lounge, holding up a sign that says "Dr Norman Wilfred", he suddenly decides that it might be interesting to see how long he can impersonate this mysterious doctor. So Oliver goes to stay at a fancy hotel, where he must prepare to give a lecture on a topic that is a complete mystery to him. And Dr Norman Wilfred (with Oliver's suitcase, of course) ends up in a villa in the middle of nowhere with Oliver's would-be girlfriend.

Skios and a scene from another Greek island about two years ago
I didn't know anything about this book beforehand, except that it was long-listed for the Booker Prize last year, so I had no idea what to expect. The first few pages of the novel were surprisingly boring to read and I was just about to give up on the entire book, but I decided to read at least to page 30 before doing so. :) And I'm pretty happy I did!

Skios is a comic novel, a traditional farce of mistaken identities, identical suitcases getting lost and mixed up, Greek taxi drivers constantly driving people to the wrong places, funny misunderstandings, crazy coincidences, chance encounters and so on. It has all the elements of a comedy where the rational life of (fairly) rational characters slowly but surely spins out of control and where the individual storylines eventually come together in the inevitable messy, hilarious culmination.

I'm reading P. G. Wodehouse's Hot Water at the moment, and it somehow reminds me of this novel. Wodehouse's style of writing is more complex, but the mistaken identities and other misunderstandings that eventually form a crazy, comical mess are similar.

I haven't read a book this entertaining and this funny in a long, long time! Yes, the characters are a bit one-sided. Yes, the humour is based largely on misunderstandings due to typical language problems and the characters' own delusions and assumptions about themselves and others. And yes, as the story unfolds, it becomes more and more incredible, implausible and ridiculous. But that's the beauty of a farce. :)

Michael Frayn: Skios. Faber & Faber. 2012. 278 pages.

Faber & Faber: Skios
The Guardian: Skios - review
Wikipedia: Skios
Wikipedia: Michael Frayn

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