My Father's Fortune - A Life
By Michael Frayn
Faber and Faber £16.99
Dateline: 6th September, 2010
My Father's Fortune is the kind of book that would not be published
but for its author's reputation. Put simply, it is a memoir of a nobody,
Michael Frayn's father Tommy.
Somehow, one expects that highly educated, deeply intelligent writers
must come from special stock. This book proves beyond doubt that this
need not be the case.
On both sides, Michael Frayn's progenitors going back several generations
contain neither any writers nor indeed anybody especially artistic or
The people affectionately portrayed in this book are ordinary salt
of the earth types who might best qualify to be defined as lower-middle-class,
doing ordinary jobs and struggling to make ends meet.
That, however, does not make them valueless and in a way they are more
interesting than any number of Oxbridge intellectuals about whom one
can read any day of the week.
In part, My Father's Fortune is a triple love story since Tommy Frayn
fell in love with Vi at 18 and after the longest of engagements, married
and loved her until her premature death. By that time, they had two
children, Michael and Jill. Father's second marriage was to manic depressive
widow Elsie, and ended in tears but by that time, he had already fallen
in love with a colleague 30 years his junior.
As well as a need for female company, the quick-witted salesman genuinely
seemed to dote on his children, although like so many of his generation
he struggled to express his feelings. This means that love and admiration
remain unspoken or at best are delivered through a veil of irony.
The book gives a fine portrayal of not only Frayn père
but also of so many other family members and friends who together, helped
to form the character of one of our greatest living playwrights.
The amazing thing is that before deciding to write about his father,
Michael Frayn had clearly forgotten most of the facts and perhaps the
greatest value to him in creating My Father's Fortune lies in
the efforts that he put into reconstructing the life of his father and,
in passing, the first 30 or so years of his own.
It is quite fascinating to see how a man that might justifiably be
described as a genius went through his early years regarded as a little
on the slow side until he began to develop a love of literature and
music that eventually led him to Cambridge and then a job in journalism.
There is very little about the playwright in this book per se
but at the same time, anybody who reads it will view Michael Frayn's
plays in a different way.
Articles from 2010
Articles from 2009
Articles from 2008
Articles from 2007
Articles from 2006
Articles from 2005
Articles from 2004
Articles from 2003
Articles from 2002
Articles from 2001
Articles from 2000
Articles from 1999
Articles from 1998
Articles from 1997