In this perky series of quickfire sketches, Michael Frayn sends up a variety of 21st-century inanities, from the Kafkaesque loops of a utility company’s automated hotline to modern journalism’s mania for lists. The book gets its spark from the sense that Frayn is having a ball: ‘Ten of the Best’ takes the form of a self-cannibalising round-up of ‘The 10 Best 10-Best Lists, chosen by the 10 Best 10-Best List-makers’; entries include ‘The 10 Best Death Threats For Slightly Divergent Political Opinions’ and ‘The 10 Best Cries of Despair From People Who Can’t Remember Where They Put Their Mobile Phones Down’.
It’s a little bit silly, and a lot of fun. An item in the style of an Innovations catalogue advertises a ‘stylish but hard-wearing sheep-enumerator’ for insomniacs fed up counting their own. ‘Bill of Writes’ is a spoof brochure for a suite of creative writing courses for authors of every standard, from casually aspiring novice (‘how to know whether to start writving your book today, or whether it might be better to put it off until tomorrow’) to Jedi level: ‘how to write a How-to-Write course’ is a necessity for serious authors ‘now that no one reads anything any more but everyone wants to write the things that no one wants to read’.
Frayn’s jollies don’t come at anyone’s expense (his own publisher’s creative writing academy aside), and his evident fondness for the stuff he’s joking about is never far from the surface. Here’s an entry in a series of personal ads for characters seeking plots, and props seeking characters:
DECANTER containing single-malt Scotch,