The setup: On the Greek island of Skios, the Fred Toppler Foundation’s annual lecture is to be given by Dr Norman Wilfred, the world-famous authority on the scientific organisation of science. He turns out to be surprisingly young and charming and the Foundation’s guests are soon eating out of his hand. Meanwhile, in a remote village at the other end of the island, is a balding old gent called Dr Norman Wilfred, who has lost his whereabouts, his luggage, his temper and increasingly all normal sense of reality…
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Skios took me by surprise. This is my first time reading Booker nominees, and I suppose I was expecting more highbrow fare. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a negative review!
Skios is a slapstick comedy of mistaken identities, missed meetings, and wonderful characters. My initial impression was of a similarity in pace to the Broadway show Noises Off (more about that later), and a healthy dollop of The Thomas Crown Affair.
Our central character Nikki has staked her career at a Greek resort for the intelligentsia (a TED gathering perhaps?!?) on engaging a guest speaker of her choice. Trouble begins when she meets a serial impersonator and infamous cad and willfully mistakes him for her speaker. Hilarity ensues.
The plot is multilayered, possibly too self-consciously so, but you should be too entertained to notice. I particularly enjoyed Spiros and Stavros, sibling taxi drivers who function as an ersatz Greek (!) chorus to the action.
Returning to Noises Off, I couldn’t shake the similarity all the while I read the book. Then I read About The Author after the last page and found that Michael Frayn actually WROTE Noises Off. Er, how did I miss that small detail?
Four stars for Skios, and a recommended read.