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My Father's Fortune: A Life

by Michael Frayn

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1043264,689 (4.18)7
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. InMy 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.… (more)
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Showing 3 of 3
A very touching and honest memoir that focus's on Frayn's relationship with his father. The author and the book are both open about their shortcomings and blind spots but the book ultimately serves as a tribute to Frayn's uncomplaining, stoical and enigmatic father. ( )
  xander_paul | Jan 11, 2013 |
Extremely well written memoir, not just of Frayn's father, but naturally the whole family too and the early years of the author. The history of the family and the times they live though, particulaly in the 30's and 40's are fascinating. Frayn has a sense of timing and self-doubt that makes the book very funny at times, which is perhaps why the sad parts are all the more devastating, even when you see them coming. I rarely laugh out loud or cry at books, but this made me do both. ( )
  rrmmff2000 | Jul 6, 2012 |
In trying to review all the books I read this year, so far, my strategy has been to write while the impressions the book leaves are fresh in my mind. This time though, I've had to wait almost a week, and consult the notes I made as soon as I put the book down. It just didn't give me a complete sense of anything except frustration, and I was desperately hoping a more positive view would emerge if I waited.

Frayn sets out to tell the reader, in no uncertain terms, that the book is about his father. About his family, and his past, and the desire of his daughter to understand her heritage and traits within the context of her antecedents. So far, so good. And the first section, where Frayn describes his grandparents and the conjectures he has made about their lives will chime with any family historian. I found myself wishing he spent more time on this section the more I read, though.

What disappointed me, was the frequency with which the book tried to be something noble, but simply felt self-indulgent. Frayn insists that the book is about his Father. Fine. Great. Why is it that almost the entire book is about the son, then? Frayn Snr had two children, and yet his daughter barely features in the narrative, other than when it is mentioned that Michael Frayn was a Mummy's boy, and his sister a Daddy's girl. If that was the case, then why is there so little written about her? Even if she and her brother are not close, it seems odd that he should try and write her out of his Father's story. The incredibly sad influence this closeness to her father may have had to the end of her life is the only direct link which is drawn.

The part that struck me most though, was the contrast between the descriptions of grief when Frayn's parents die. I don't know if the contrast was written as a clever devise, representing the young Frayn and the more mature Frayn, but it was marked. The chapter which deals with the death of his mother is utterly heartbreaking. It's one of the best descriptions of the emptiness of grief that I've ever read. Her absence is all consuming, and Frayn doesn't shy away from that. When his Father dies, that Father who is supposed to be central to the book, it is accompanied by a very matter of fact description of the drawing up of his will and the division of what estate he had. Somehow, it also feels empty, but in a completely different way.

All in all, this does not feel like a biography of Tom Frayn. This feels like the first section of Michael Frayn's AUTObiography. Building it around his Father feels like a way to limit himself, although the extensive descriptions and quotations of his teenage poetry draw even that theory into question. The fact is, that Frayn Snr and Jnr are good storytellers. As such, I would have expected more stories and less minute contextual detail. The lack of surviving relations should have given Frayn free reign to exaggerate, even imagine, the facts, as he admits he did in the past. At one point, he is clearly trying to write an ineffectual apology to a school friend for his conduct, which has absolutely nothing to do with Frayn Snr.

In summary, I felt there was a certain reticence in discussing his Father, and all too willing a discussion of his own flaws and triumphs. It is a readable, pleasant little book, but one that has perhaps been given a slightly inaccurate contextual slant. What is Frayn's Father's Fortune? I came away with the overwhelming impression that it may have been to have his son in his life. ( )
  Beakif | Mar 11, 2012 |
Showing 3 of 3
Frayn says at the outset that his father has been dead for 40 years and that he wrote the book at the urging of his 47-year-old daughter, Rebecca, who wanted to know more about her antecedents. One senses that Frayn was initially reticent about the project; but by the time it ends, as many such books do, on a confessional, apologetic note, you feel his relief at having gotten it out. Rebecca owes her dad a kiss and a big thank-you.
 
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The handle of my study door softly turns.
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Whenever we can afford it we go to concerts at the Albert Hall. These offer excellent value, because the acoustics are so eccentric before they modify the roof many years later that you hear everything twice and three times.
When Frank dies in 1977, at the age of ninety-seven, Nellie, now ninety-four, declines to go to the funerals in favor of watching the Test match on television.
He can't even co-ordinate finger and thumb to turn over the page of one of our set texts to show us what he means. He has to lick his thumb and take a jab at it, in the hope that the paper will adhere to the saliva. The pages of our books rapidly become crumpled and loose, blotched with thumb-prints and stuck together with spit.
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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. InMy 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.

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