Michael Frayn's ingeniously clever, riotously silly novel is set on the eponymous Greek island, where a charitable foundation is preparing to host a gala dinner for an array of important guests. The keynote speaker, bumptious Dr Norman Wilfred – an authority in "Scientometrics" – arrives only to find that someone else has commandeered his luggage.
The culprit is one Oliver Fox, a toffish bon vivant who is mistaken for Wilfred at Skios airport and charmingly plays along (Scientometrics is all Greek to him, but he gamely extemporises). Meanwhile the doctor himself ends up ensconced in the same countryside villa as Fox's attractive mistress – and forgets all about his speech.
Writing this sort of madcap comedy must be more difficult than it was when the master farceur gave us Noises Off (1982) or the film Clockwise (1986): nowadays a quick internet search is all that's needed to prevent wrong turnings and social mix-ups. Frayn solves this problem by way of some rather convenient accidents: characters repeatedly forget to charge their iPhones – or drop them in the pool.
But, so long as you're willing to suspend some disbelief, Skios is a joy: light and limber and very, very funny. Frayn manipulates the various elements like a mischievous Olympian deity, interspersing slapstick comedy with observations on fate, free will and foreknowledge absolute. Caught up in a chain of coincidence, he writes, Fox and Wilfred might have guessed that their destiny was ordained – "not that it would have helped them very much".