By Michael Frayn
Metropolitan Books (Henry Holt)
Oliver Fox is one of those feckless young men who makes his way through life responding to the situation as it appears. He lets things shape themselves before and around him, responds with charm, and stays with it until it falls apart or the next situation begins to shape up.
He has been kicked out by his sugar momma Annuka once again. But he's also connected with lovely young thing Georgia, exchanged text messages and is flying to a lovely Greek island so they can spend a few nights together away from her boyfriend. At the same time, super-competent Nikki looks over the last-minute arrangements for the annual gathering hosted by the Fred Toppler Foundation. It primarily exists as a way for the former exotic dancer, the widowed Mrs. Fred Toppler, to pay homage to the source of her wealth with a world-class meeeting of minds from finance, academics, government and the like. The speaker every year is dull as dishwater, so Nikki has found the perfect antidote -- Dr. Norman Wilfred. He travels the world giving talks about how smart he is. As long as he keeps his speech nearby, he can weather any discomfort. Until now.
Fox takes Wilfred's place at the airport when Nikki waits to meet the speaker she hasn't seen before; she's only talked to his PA for weeks. Then Georgie arrives a day early. People keep mistaking Fox and Wilfred for each other in true screwball comedy situations. Frayn is terrific at making these outlandish events seem semi-plausible. Along the way, he throws in a few light zingers about the nature of foundations, the speakers who make their reputations at them and how similar parlor tricks can look like deep thoughts. Or is that last one the other way round?
Without revealing the story's climax, Frayn sets up a meringue-light story, but readers may feel burned at the end. Readers who enjoy complete shifts in story and tone may thrill to the Over the Top action but it is a huge change to overcome. Until then, however, the confection is delightful because when on top of his game, Frayn is adept at making skewing commentary.
©2012 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission