Books I have Recently Enjoyed


reviews include 27 by RJ Heald and Skios by Michael Frayn

Review of 27 by RJ Heald, out on Kindle and in paperback

27 is an absorbing novel which revolves round a set of friends who met at university and have all now reached the landmark age of twenty-seven. What have they done with their lives? Have they reached the place they hoped they would by now? We follow them through a year which turns out to be momentous for each of them.

The characters are sharply observed and as I read, I quickly came to feel they were my friends too – I almost looked them up on Facebook! They are very different from each other in personality and in the problems that life throws at them. Among others there’s Katie, just back from teaching in India and wondering what to do next; Andy who has come to see that his marriage is no longer working; James the perfect one who seems to have everything, until his friends discover that he has nothing; and Dave – dear hopeless Dave; what can I say about Dave?

It is particularly enjoyable to see how they react with each other – some of them support each other, some are neglectful, and occasionally a character is quite unable to see why the others are so self-absorbed and wrapped up in petty problems. Because we know them all so well, we see every problem from several different points of view and we sympathise with each one of the friends.

The tension builds up over the year as we really need to know how their separate problems can be resolved. All along we feel we are in the hands of an accomplished storyteller, and of course there is a satisfying climax.

Review of Skios by Michael Frayn

You’ve just arrived at a small airport – a holiday destination, perhaps. After trudging wearily through customs, you are met with a sea of unknown faces, holding up placards with strange names on them: taxi for Ms K. Smith, Thompson Holidays, Aegean Coaches, Dr. Norman Wilfred… Have you ever been tempted to go up to one of them and pretend to be the person they are waiting for? That in a nutshell is the plot of this brilliant farce: Oliver Fox, a young man with hair like Boris Johnson and a perennially complicated social life, steps on impulse into the shoes of a distinguished academic on the international conference circuit.

I picked this book up at the Hay Festival last week and read it in three days. The charming Michael Frayn obligingly wrote ‘to Leela’ in it, but of course he wasn’t billed to talk about Skios at all – the blurb advertising his session was about his previous book on his father, in effect his own autobiography: as in this novel, nothing is ever what it seems to be. Skios is an imaginary Greek island, though many of Frayn’s readers have told him they’ve been there. You should pack the book if you are off on holiday to just such an idyllic island; you’ll be able to laze about in thirty-three degrees, smelling the bougainvillea and sipping your ouzo. Or maybe you should pack it if you are off to Norway?

There’s an intriguing cast of characters. While Oliver Fox struggles to work out where the hell Nikki, this attractive young PA, is taking him, discovering that he is due to give the keynote address tomorrow night at the Foundation’s annual highlight, the real Dr. Norman Wilfred is left adrift at the airport, no one to meet him as promised; where will he go? Meanwhile Oliver’s ex-girlfriend turns up at the villa she owns, planning to meet him there, and the current girl he’d picked up in London and has known for five whole minutes, unexpectedly arrives early… And much more; you are in for a treat. Oh and of course I bought the other book as well – My Father’s Fortune, which I am now finding hugely enjoyable.