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Book reviews from The Free Lance-Star.

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Vacation plans go awry

Misidentified entities create  hilarity

By  Drew Gallagher

For The Free Lance–Star

YOU’VE seen this play before.  In fact, Shakespeare made a pretty good living (or at least a posthumous reputation) out of the same devices that Michael Frayn uses in his new novel “Skios.”  When Shakespeare wasn’t dealing with Danish princes working through Oedipal complexes, his characters were gallivanting in the woods—misidentified women with misidentified men, misidentified women as men with misidentified men as women.

“Skios” is Frayn’s first novel in 10 years, and boy, we’ve missed him.  “Skios” almost has the feel of a bar bet among friends where one of Frayn’s buddies down at the pub dares him to write a novel about misidentified characters.  Frayn may have protested initially and cited any number of examples from the Marx Brothers to “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” but over a pint one can see the challenge that lies before Frayn and after a second pint one can see Frayn warming to the challenge.  The result is the comedic “Skios.”

Oliver Fox is a Lothario whose on- and off-again girlfriend secures the use of a friend’s villa on the Greek island of Skios for some alone time with Oliver.  When she dumps him for the fourth time, Oliver still wants to use the villa and persuades a married woman  he just met to meet him at the now ex-girlfriend’s friend’s villa.  Let the games begin.

As Oliver lands at the small airport on Skios, he sees an attractive woman holding a sign for a Dr. Norman Wilfred.  She looks at Oliver, he looks at her, and a new Dr. Norman Wilfred is born.  But of course the real Dr. Wilfred arrives soon after, only to find that someone has mistakenly taken his suitcase from baggage claim.  Not to mention the two other women who expected to spend the week at the villa with Oliver (ex-girlfriend has forgiven him  again).

Frayn has obvious fun with his characters and the assorted threads that he plucks throughout “Skios” until we are left with the dénouement:

“If they had been living in a story, of course, they might have guessed that someone somewhere had the rest of the book in his hands, and that what was just about to happen was already there in the printed pages, fixed, unalterable, solidly existent.  Not that it would have helped them very much, because no one in a story ever knows they are.”

Frayn does comedy especially well, but at novel’s end we are reminded that this is not Shakespeare, where everyone ends up with the right person.  After all, it’s Greek.

Drew Gallagher  is a freelance writer  in Spotsylvania County.


By  Michael Frayn

(Henry Holt, $25, 272 pp.)


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