So I’ve just finished Skios by Michael Frayn and it was about time for a good laugh. Skios is a farce set on the Greek island of Skios and while it adheres to many of the staples of farcical comedy, the writing style and description really set it apart from anything else I have read. Skios is a guaranteed hoot, as all types of readers will, no doubt, find something to laugh about.
Skios follows Dr Norman Wilfred who travels to the beautiful island of Skios to give a headlining lecture at an exclusive weekend retreat. The Fred Toppler Foundation attracts intellectuals who gather together every year to enjoy the luxurious surroundings while they discuss all manner of intellectual type things. Dr Wilfred has his lecture ready in his carry-on bag, but a mix-up at the airport sends Dr Wilfred to the other side of the island to a villa meant for a man named Oliver Fox. In his place, Oliver Fox, a chancer who masquerades as Dr Wilfred on a whim, goes to the Foundation, sure that his lie cannot last long. However, as coincidences start piling up, it seems that Fox and Dr Wilfred are both stuck in their new lives, and the important lecture may be spoken by the wrong person.
Skios is set up to be a classic mistaken identity farce, as Oliver Fox pretends to be Dr Norman Wilfred. However, as it turns out, the real Dr Wilfred has also been mistaken to be Oliver Fox. Not only that but they seem to have found each other’s suitcases. If this seems rather unbelievable, that’s probably because it totally is. Skios works best when you suspend your disbelief entirely. There are a radical amount of weird happenstances and coincidences in Skios and while this would probably not be a problem in, say, a stageplay (the natural home for farce), it is harder to maintain a level of ambivalence over the length of a novel. Skios is, in actuality, utter nonsense.
There are a large number of characters, at both sides of the island, but they all manage to feel unique and real. Also, each character is hilarious in their own right, no matter how small of a part they play. Nikki, a PA at the foundation, is plotting a hostile takeover of the director’s position. Spiros and Stavros, two taxi drivers, are vying for each other’s business. One of them (I forget which) says to his customer ‘Good job you chose me. The other one kill you for sure’ as he speeds along the island. Even a miniscule part, a member of Dr Wilfred’s congregation, gets some killer lines. The man notices that Dr Wilfred is not actually Dr Wilfred, but doesn’t say anything because he doesn’t want to make a fuss.
Frayn’s attention to detail is marvellous and it is when Skios is not concerned with adhering to the rules to farce that it truly shines. Whether it is finding philosophical meaning in an airport baggage claim or hinting at Oliver Fox’s colourful past, Skios becomes something more than just plain farce.
Skios is a delightful novel, which hits a very few speedbumps along the way. I found myself getting lost in places (the sheer number of different suitcases that look the same baffled me for a while) and the ending is disappointing, mainly because too many elements are in play. However, Skios is an easy recommendation for anyone who needs a good laugh.
Skios is the farce to end all farces. A nonsensical plot that becomes a little confusing at times, is helped by a fantastic writing style, wonderful characters and hilarious description. Frayn has the ability to pick up on the little things, and thus Skios is actually funnier in its quieter moments. A slightly disappointing ending cannot hinder the fact that Skios is a blast.
SKIOS by MICHAEL FRAYN