For the first time, Michael Frayn, the "master of what is seriously funny,"* turns his humor and narrative genius on his own family's story, to re-create the world that made him who he is
Whether he is deliriously funny or philosophically profound, as a novelist and a playwright Michael Frayn has concerned himself with the ordinary life lived by erring humans, which is always more extraordinary than people think. In My Father's Fortune, Frayn reveals the original exemplar of the extraordinary-ordinary life: his father, Tom Frayn.
A clever lad, a roofing salesman with a winning smile and a racetrack vocabulary, Tom Frayn emerged undaunted from a childhood spent in two rooms with six other people, all of them deaf. And undaunted he stayed, through German rockets, feckless in-laws, and his own increasing deafness; through the setback of a son as bafflingly slow-witted as the father was quick on his feet; through the shockingly sudden tragedy that darkened his life.
Tom Frayn left his son little more than three watches and two ink-and-wash prints. But the true fortune he passed on was the great humor and spirit revealed in this beguiling memoir.
* Anthony Burgess
A sprightly, warmhearted memoir of his dapper salesman father takes playwright and novelist Frayn (Spies) from working-class London through two world wars. Thomas Frayn died in 1970 at the age of 69, largely deaf but still actively selling roofing to contractors in London, a widower who later remarried, and whose enterprising, responsible spirit bequeathed a "fortune" to his son much later in life. The Frayn clan filled a cramped house in a rough neighborhood in Halloway, North London; Tom Frayn left school at age 14, marked as a "smart lad," gaining a clerk's wages that were needed to support the family. Married in 1931 to Violet "Vi" Lawson, who similarly had to quit a prestigious music school to go to work, Tom moved his family to Ewell Village, Surrey, where the author and his younger sister grew up within the stolid middle class. Michael Frayn, however, was not destined to be the brilliant cricketer and wit that his father envisioned, but rather "as dozy as a weekend motorist." The sudden death of his mother of a heart attack when he was 12 "hardened" the author, drove him inward, and he became enamored with music and poetry, eventually attending Cambridge and becoming a journalist. Here is a son's proud, gently poking tribute to the remarkable qualities of an ordinary man, if only on the outside.