Michael Frayn Frayn, Michael (Vol. 3) - Essay

Frayn, Michael (Vol. 3)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Frayn, Michael 1933–

Frayn, a British comic novelist and columnist, has been compared to Evelyn Waugh. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

To call Sweet Dreams a "novel of today" is to reveal only one face of Michael Frayn's new gem. And on the whole, a small face. Yet the book is unquestionably about modern man, his wife, his children, his mistress, and his contretemps. The problem here is how to suggest its other facets without spoiling the pleasure of discovering how wide he ranges and with what comedy he invents….

Frayn has created deceptively ordinary events, placed them in deceptively ordinary surroundings, and, imagining with boundless originality, endowed it all with the extraordinary. Those who read Gulliver too early to appreciate the depth of Swift's penetration may not realize what exalted satiric company Frayn is moving toward here. His characters—in skyscraper offices and suburban living rooms—fumble simultaneously with the prosaic and the unfathomable. They uncertainly juggle such problems as whom to invite to dinner, how to move mountains, where to go for lunch, how to establish a workable ethical system, who's sleeping with whom, and Who is running the Show. It is comic and cosmic….

Several years ago Frayn's Against Entropy delighted a relative handful of lucky discoverers. Perhaps because of its title, it never caught on. Which is a pity, for it is a richly funny story of a collapsing London periodical and the people who are caught in its wreckage, even in the act of undermining it. Sweet Dreams is every bit as witty as his previous best work and even more stimulating.

Alan Green, "A Swift Journey," in Saturday Review/World (copyright © 1974 by Saturday Review/World, Inc.; reprinted with permission), January 12, 1974, pp. 48.

Impossible not to overpraise Michael Frayn's latest novel, "Sweet Dreams," I say to myself—and then ask myself, whatever do I mean? How could one overpraise so charming a book? It is lucid, intelligent, delightful, stylish, extremely funny, and I have no reservations about it at all. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Michael Frayn has a most unusual talent. His books seem so deceptively simple, but they linger in the mind for years, and can be re-read with the greatest pleasure. "Sweet Dreams" is no exception. It is a fantasy, but let not that deter—there is nothing wild or difficult or provoking about it. As he assures us, it is a middle-class fantasy, and it is a sweet one….

The novel is a satire on modern fashions—clothes, houses, jobs, attitudes, beliefs—but it's more than that. It's an account of growing older, it's a comment on the nature of man. (One of the characters is designing not the Alps, but Man, and a poor job he makes of it.) The accuracy of Frayn's observation is dazzling; in a few words he creates a man, a room, a dinner party. What he does, he does precisely. And it isn't a small talent. Most satirists and writers of Utopias dislike people profoundly, but Frayn's work is informed with the most beautiful goodwill. It isn't innocence, because he is knowing (though one suspects he suspects that others suspect at times that he is an innocent). It is a kind of goodness. One of the rarest qualities, and how could one ever overpraise it?

Margaret Drabble, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 13, 1974, p. 7.

Seldom has a title [Sweet Dreams] been more apt. This is a sweet book, a delicate book. Because it contains no violence, no explicit sex, no melodrama, no unpleasantness of any kind, it fills a need felt by more readers than will ever hear of it. A novel like this these days is unlikely: the tiny ideas, little jokes, the satire and gentle irony flitting among its pages, not to mention the happy people becoming ever happier…. Extraordinary!

Peter S. Prescott, in Newsweek (copyright Newsweek, Inc., 1974; reprinted by permission), February 18, 1974, pp. 90.