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Reading Skios by Michael Frayn

Sunday has come early this week – I’m posting early because on Sunday itself I will be somewhere over the Mediterranean skies.

I’m taking with me Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón since I like to read novels set in a country I am visiting (in this case, Spain) – the book was recommended by many people who read my Sunday Salon from last week.

I was also planning to take Skios by Michael Frayn which is one of the books long listed for this year’s Man Booker Prize. But  I’ve read about 70 pages so far and it feels very insubstantial, more the kind of book you’d read at the pool with eyes half glazed from the sun. But I want more meat on the bone. So I think I’ll just listen to the audio version.

The novel is set on the Greek island of Skios which is home to the Fred Toppler Foundation. The guest lecturer for this year’s retreat is Dr Norman Wilfred, a world-famous authority on the scientific organisation of science. He’s a man who spends much of his life on the lecture circuit – enjoying champagne hospitality in business class airline seats and sycophantic welcomes by lightly tanned, lightly blonde girls at his destination. Except this trip is different – instead of a luxurious stay in the Toppler Foundation villa, due to a mix up with baggage at the airport, he ends up at a villa at the other end of the island with little more than a copy of his lecture.

Meanwhile, his place at the Toppler is taken by Oliver Fox, a young chancer who seems to spend his entire life dashing from one escapade to another. He is younger than the Toppler organisers were expecting but they are charmed by him nevertheless.

Hm. Yes it’s humorous but so far, it all feels rather predictable – the usual encounters between characters who cannot speak each other’s language. And the characterisation is very light so far.  I chose this one because I’ve enjoyed Michael Frayn’s novels in the past – particularly Headlong and Spies. But Skios just doesn’t feel as if its in the same league at all. And a million miles away from winning the Booker prize in my opinion.

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