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The Trick of It


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The Trick of It by Michael Frayn is a compelling drama, a vivid study of obsession and a playful account of life at the fringes of the creative world.

About the Author

Michael Frayn was born in London in 1933 and began his career as a journalist on the Guardian and the Observer. His novels include Towards the End of the Morning, The Trick of It and A Landing on the Sun. Headlong was shortlisted for the 1999 Booker Prize, Whitbread Novel Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction. His thirteen plays range from Noises Off to Copenhagen, and he has translated a number of works, mostly from Russian. He is married to the biographer and critic Claire Tomalin.


As wickedly funny as it is intelligent and perceptive, this first work of fiction in 16 years by the British playwright ( Noises Off ; The Benefactors ) and novelist ( Sweet Dreams ) is a reader's delight. In a series of letters to a colleague in Australia, the nameless narrator, a literary critic at a provincial British university, gradually unfolds the story of his marriage--a dream come true that has turned into a nightmare. Having based his reputation on his literary criticism of the works of the novelist JL, the narrator invites her to speak to his students. She comes; he falls in love but bumbles the aftermath of their coupling; he pursues her nonetheless; they marry. But the union of writer and critic is not ideal. With impeccable timing, Frayn gradually reveals the academic's conundrum: though his wife is colorless and dull in person, she has the trick of turning life into eventful fiction, while he, poor man, can neither influence what she writes (he tries) nor write as well--in fact, write at all (he tries that too). Mordantly witty, the letters disclose first the writer's glee at having ``cornered the market, as it were,'' then his desperation: he loses his job since it's unseemly that ``a husband expound his own wife.'' The author has the trick his protagonist lacks: he can take a serious theme, spin it out into deliciously calibrated comedy, then darken it with a touch of rue. The poignant ending adds perfection to this flawless comedy of manners. First serial to the New Yorker. (Mar.)

The ``trick'' involves writing a novel, an objective that eludes Frayn's academic narrator, RD. Having bedded and wed his pet subject, successful writer JL, RD also fails to see his ``careful and sympathetic suggestions'' incorporated into her new novel. His despised family even becomes the subject of her next one. The comic possibilities seem endless, but there's scarcely a chuckle here. (A remark about the ``taboo against intercourse with an author on your own reading-list'' is typical of the humor.) What's more, the characters are as bland as their initials. Frayn scored a hit with his screenplay for the British comedy Clockwise (1986), but Trick misses by a mile.-- Grove Koger, Boise P.L., Id.

"This is a book about who owns the livingness of the living writer; it is funny, moving, intricately constructed and done with an observant wisdom. it also has some of the best jokes...a delight." -Malcolm Bradbury, "Sunday Times" (London) "The pace and edge of this novel are swift and cutting; its theme is philosophical and literary....Michael Frayn is a master of what is seriously funny." -"Guardian "(London) "He uses a comic technique for themes that are not funny at all. The reader is softened at first by laughter...but then a latent gravity becomes patent though the touch remains light." -Anthony Burgess, "Observer "(London)

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