Dr Normal Wilfred, a professor of "scientometrics" and Oliver Fox, a libertine ne'er-do-well, are travelling to the Greek island of Skios. Wilfred is due to give a lecture at a conference; Fox has left a girlfriend at home and is vaguely hoping to meet another on the island. At the airport, Wilfred is distracted, and, seeing someone holding up a sign for the professor, Fox decides on a whim to pretend to be him.
The scenario reminds me a bit of David Lodge ("Small World") but the story isn't really like that: it's basically a farce where the fun is seeing how far Frayn can push the story and put his characters through increasing levels of misfortune and discomfort.
And it was really effective: perspective switches between different characters, so you know what each of them is thinking/doing, which makes their responses to the circumstances in which they find themselves at the same time rational (from their point of view) and very funny (from the reader's). It did get a bit implausible at times but that was forgiveable.
One episode has Fox being quizzed by an academic and asked to explain his theory. He doesn't even know what the theory is, but manages to get out of a potentially awkward situation by giving a demonstration based on coffee cups which had me laughing so much I had to put the book down.
Actually, the ending was a bit Lodge-ian and perhaps the weak point of the book, where the author steps back and discusses with the reader what should happen. But perhaps after such a long build up, it would be hard to resolve things without a bit of a crash.
This was another book I rushed through and finished in a single day. I laughed a lot.
Re-read, almost exactly a year later, because I was on holiday (on my E2E) and remembered it being a very funny holiday read. This time, it wasn't quite so uproariously funny. Still good, but I think it needs a bit more than a year before I re-read it
Completed : 04-Aug-2013
Completed : 09-Aug-2014