Reub's journey

28 March 2014

Cephalopod Coffeehouse book review: Skios



farce  /färs/:  
a comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations. (Google definition)

 
This month I read Skios, a farcical novel by British author/playwrite Michael Frayn. It's not a book for everybody. Don't attempt this one if you:

1. always avoid sitcoms, even Seinfeld.
2. want deeply-drawn characters.
3. believe plot twists should be plausible.
4. are reading in a waiting room and don't wish to wreck the somber atmosphere by laughing out loud.
5. never walked off a plane in a foreign airport tired and dazed, wishing someone was holding a sign with your name on it.

After the hapless con man, Oliver Fox, sets off a chain of events beginning at a small Greek airport Skios careens into slapstick, coincidence, and silliness.  It makes fun of pretentious academicians, wealthy patrons, a young career woman and her bff, Greek taxi drivers, a writer at a retreat...let's see, did I forget anyone?  It was very funny, but easier to take in small amounts: reading for 15 minutes at a time was plenty. Then I found myself switching to serious nonfiction (The Presidents' Club to be exact.) Back and forth, serious, silly, serious, silly. This strategy helped me through both books.

My favorite parts of Skios were when the reader is taken inside the thoughts of Oliver Fox as he pretends to be Dr. Norman Wilfred:

In some ways he was more Dr. Norman Wilfred than he had ever been Oliver Fox. He had had many negative feelings about his old persona; he had none at all about his new one. He enjoyed his distinction and importance. He was proud of his achievements, whatever they were. He felt as if he had moved into a spacious new house, where there was room for extra furniture and new pictures on the walls, where there were roomy attics and cellars in which the unwanted lumber of the past could be dumped. It was what the real estate agents called an imposing residence, and living in it was a perpetual adventure, a challenge that brought out the best in him.



The closest things I've ever read to Skios are the silly side plots, coincidences, and mix-ups that lighten so many of Shakespeare's works. Most fiction avoids using buffoonery as a device, a sort of foil set against darker themes. The conclusion of Skios is a scene that seems like it could have been concocted by middle school boys, but you know what? I forgive Michael Frayn for that, and thank him for the good time I had reading this book, implausible as it all was. Sometimes you just gotta go along for the ride and enjoy it. Kind of like Oliver Fox himself:


Well, he would work it out for himself as he went along, he wouldn't be able to stop himself. Sadly. Because for the moment he was a living metaphor of the human condition. He knew not whence he came not whither he was bound, nor what manner of man he was, nor why he was here at all. He was being taken somewhere for some purpose, but of what that purpose was he remained in innocent ignorance.

For more book reviews, visit The Armchair Squid.

17 comments:

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    1. Don't say I didn't warn you! But I hope you like this goofy read!

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  2. This might not be my sort of book but if I do come across it I will take your advice and read it in short bursts.

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    1. The NYT critic preferred his "Headlong" and "A Landing on the Sun" over this book. They might be easier to take in longer sittings.

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  3. I love Seinfeld. Maybe I should get a sample for my kindle. Thanks!

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    1. If you love Seinfeld, you might just like this one Gail. But a sample reading is best.

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  4. First, love your checklist! I'm not sure if I'd love this book so much with all the buffoonery. Like you said, it's probably best to read something like this in small amounts. Thanks for sharing this one!

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    1. I realized that I'm not accustomed to reading humorous books. I wonder if there are other titles out there that I should explore. With shorter checklists.

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  5. I had no idea. Based on that Google definition, my whole outlook on life comes close to being farcical. Okay, maybe not, but I do appreciate a weird sense of humor, and would more than likely love this book. Thanks. I'll check it out.

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    1. haha Susan! I do believe you're a good candidate for this book. Read it!

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  6. Every once in a while, it's great to read a book that's just flat out funny. Buffoonery is definitely under-appreciated.

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    1. You're right, AS. What are some other funny books? hmmm. I can't name one right now.

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  7. I guess it's like how I will watch a really stupidly funny movie - but funnily stupid at the same time - to get some stupid laughter out of the way, and they do say laughter is the best medicine. but that sort of movie would never get an Oscar nomination from me. :P

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    1. Yeah, comedies never get close to winning Oscars, do they? But I would say this book had some redeeming qualities, beyond silliness, that made me keep reading.

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  8. I don't think I've ever read anything like you've described. I might have to check this out.

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  9. haven't read this one, but as to other funny books - Lamb by Christopher Moore! I also chuckle reading Anne Lamott...

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    1. Lamb....I'll check it out! Thanks!

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