Cover image for The trick of it
The trick of it
Frayn, Michael.
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New York : Viking, 1989.
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Author Notes

Michael Frayn is the author of the award-winning "Copenhagen" & twelve other plays, including "Noises Off". The most recent of his nine novels is "Headlong", a New York Times Editor's Choice & Booker Prize finalist. He lives in London.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Oh, to have a pen pal such as Richard Dunnett--he always writes back. And back and back--long, literate, witty monologues to a fellow scholar in Australia, which try to pound out for posterity the timeless literary trick: what makes a writer write. Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim never had it so hard. Skeptical and academically knowing as his fictional predecessor, Professor Dunnett is a more dedicated and thorough scholar, who unwittingly embarks on a striking method of literary study--he meets, courts, and marries the subject of his literature course synopsis: a female novelist. Scoring the literary coup of his career, he begins to lovingly dissect the Grand Muse in proximity, to unveil the creative leaps she performs in her celebrated novels. In this subtle and sublimely ironic epistolary novel, monologues of intelligently considered literary life fly across the oceans and time zones as Dunnett struggles to pin down, before they become evanescent, his marriage to a creator and his own orbital existence as interpreter of the mystic writing process. Graceful metaphors are the iron frame of this book, giving substance and humor to the doubts and struggles of those subscribing to a creative life. Its words leave few answers as to how, but a faint glow of hope for the why. --Deanna Larson-Whiterod

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.