The last Michael Frayn novel I read was Skios and I spent the book feeling like I was reading a movie pitch (albeit a long one). Maybe it would have made a good movie, but it failed as a book, perhaps because of these conflicted purposes.
The other day I discovered, sitting in the bookshelves, unread as yet, Now You Know. Written (or rather, published) twenty years before Skios, and shortly after the splendid A Landing on the Sun, I had great expectations. Which were unmet.
Why did you start doing this, Mr Frayn? Having your cake and eating it. Writing novels with an eye to the stage? Don’t write novels if that’s your plan. I read this, thinking just like Skios, that it was the detailed plan for a play. A play this time, not a movie, which was more the sense I got with Skios, maybe because it had an exotic location. This time felt wrong because the characters spoke in some way characters speak in a play and not in a novel. I can’t say exactly what that means, it’s just my intuitive reaction. I kept seeing some stalwart of English TV playing the main character. I kept wanting to speak his lines out loud – see, lines. That’s how it felt. And at the same time, none of the characters took form in my mind’s eye the way they should in a book. It’s like I need to see the play in order to flesh them out.
And sure enough, now that I’ve put the book down and checked, it did become a play not long after. And sure enough, it didn’t work as a play either.
Okay, okay. Frayn is a wonderful writer who has churned out fantastic stuff in many walks of the printed medium. They aren’t all going to be Landings on the Sun. This one’s a bit of a trick, if you ask me. It is hard to put down and yet at the end you feel like the rabbit’s disappeared and you still want to know how.