Magic Mobile

Michael Frayn
Faber and Faber

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Magic Mobile

Despite the fact that he is well into his 80s, Michael Frayn has developed a fresh line. Already one of our most distinguished playwrights and a highly regarded novelist, a few volumes ago this versatile writer started creating what might best be described as comic sketches or skits.

Typically, these collections have been a little patchy with the best pieces charming and others mildly amusing.

Very pleasingly, Magic Mobile shows much greater consistency with most of these very short works capable of raising a knowing smile and the odd one making the reader laugh out loud.

Although they are published in book form, judging by past experience, a selection of these 35 adaptable “pre-loaded text files” might also eventually end up on a stage, not to mention their adaptation by the BBC for Radio 4.

Most of the themes deal with the minutiae of everyday life today, or to be more exact not quite today, since they were completed prior to the destruction of normal existence by the coronavirus pandemic.

Everybody will recognise the frustrations with which we are all faced on a daily basis, whether these consist in fighting satnavs, dealing with what are counterintuitively referred to as telephone helplines or trying not to get frustrated when your nearest and dearest proves wiser than you are. There are even a couple of gentle and genteel pokes at deities and politicians.

Strangely, though many of the topics might have occurred to any of us, it is only the brain of Michael Frayn that is capable of finding the additional humour or wisdom and then committing it to the page in beautifully written fashion.

Indeed, one of the pleasures of reading this book is the knowledge that this writer is not only highly literary but also has a lovely writing style and understanding of language.

This is one of those books that should appeal to everybody, but each will have his or her own favourite. A real gem is one of the longer pieces coming in at around 5 minutes. Pharmachristenin ostensibly does roughly what it says on the packet but, in addition, is guaranteed to have the much-desired side effect of making you laugh heartily.

For those with a theatrical obsession, As He Likes It about a wannabe Shakespearean collaborator is thought-provoking while Beckett Refreshed will be a certain winner. It may only be two pages long and take less than a minute to read but this minute drama is still extremely funny.

Rather than steal Michael Frayn’s splendid ideas and jokes, this reviewer will stop there and merely commend this book to readers in much need of some light relief in these dark times.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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