Metropolitan Books; ISBN-13: 978-0805095494
June 19, 2012, 272 pages
"The great master of farce turns to an exclusive island retreat for a comedy of mislaid identities, unruly passions, and demented, delicious disorder...
On the private Greek island of Skios, the high-paying guests of a world-renowned foundation prepare for the annual keynote address, to be given this year by Dr. Norman Wilfred, an eminent authority on the scientific organization of science. He turns out to be surprisingly youthful, handsome, and charming—quite unlike his reputation as dry and intimidating. Everyone is soon eating out of his hands. So, even sooner, is Nikki, the foundation's attractive and efficient organizer.
Meanwhile, in a remote villa at the other end of the island, Nikki's old friend Georgie has rashly agreed to spend a furtive horizontal weekend with a notorious schemer, who has characteristically failed to turn up. Trapped there with her instead is a pompous, balding individual called Dr. Norman Wilfred, who has lost his whereabouts, his luggage, his temper, and increasingly all sense of reality—indeed, everything he possesses other than the text of a well-traveled lecture on the scientific organization of science.
In a spiraling farce about upright academics, gilded captains of industry, ambitious climbers, and dotty philanthropists, Michael Frayn, the farceur "by whom all others must be measured" (CurtainUp), tells a story of personal and professional disintegration, probing his eternal theme of how we know what we know even as he delivers us to the outer limits of hilarity."
I admit I am not familiar with this author, with his books or plays. But I read a lot of great things about him, read him lauded as yes, "the great master of farce". And indeed, this is farce. But sadly for me, while it was a bit entertaining, it was not great, and oddly enough, I did not find it very funny. Maybe, as I have read others saying, it would have been better as a play, full of English actors who, I think, can play this sort of humor unlike no others. But on the printed page it fell flat, one improbable event after another improbable event, going nowhere in particular.
Mistaken identity, dead cell phones galore, language misunderstandings at every turn..at first the reader may buy into it, but there is a limit. Supposedly intelligent, successful people making silly assumptions and then just going with them is a little amusing at first but just grow silly after awhile.
OK, I will say, I loved the setting.
The foundation has built an idealized Greek village for their conference, with the brilliant blue sea in the background, and I would not mind pretending I belonged there to have a little vacation. For me, that will be the most memorable part of this story.
I had hoped, until the last page, that there would be some great event to top it all off. There were hints of mobsters and secret agents and funny doings with ancient Greek treasures, which yes, played a small part in the ending. But it seemed a long way to come for a story that just petered out.
Other reviews I have read of this book..I had to see if I was the only one not that amused...said that there were Frayn fans and this was, by far, not his best.
So is you are looking for a nice farce..and summer is, I think, ideal for a light and funny farce, perhaps check into some of his other books.
My thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review.