For those who do not require plausibility in their plots, Michael Frayn’s Skios is just the thing. I generally prefer the plausible – except when it comes to Frayn. From his nonsensical Noises Off to the highbrow Copenhagen, with Headlong in between, I confess that I am a fervend fan of anything he produces – believable or not.
And Skios is not. The novel centers around an academic conference in Greece, and is something of a romp, with lost luggage, transport mix-ups, and false identity. I suppose the premise is not unimaginable: you get off a plane and see a line of business people holding up contact signs – and you decide to be one of the contacts. In this case, an attractive idiot named Oliver Fox passes himself off as Dr. Wilfred, the scientist engaged to give the keynote lecture.
Meanwhile, the real and rather befuddled Dr. Wilfred finds himself whisked to the villa in which Fox was to conduct an amorous affair.
Suspend disbelief: it’s worth it. The writing charms, the setting entices, and the characters breathe. The prose is shot through with adroit descriptions (a balding head “sweating like an old cheese”), and the pleasure can be taken with a dose of pith, for those who want to puzzle about identity, causality, and the old Euripidean deus ex machina device.
Now, in terms of plausibility: well, was Shakespeare plausible? Were his plots with their madcap mistaken identities and cross-dressing characters believable? Hardly.
So, for readers who favor a farce — complete with conventions from ancient Greek drama — I’d heartily recommend Skios. It sparkles like the Aegean.