“Like whipped egg whites that have been made using gone off eggs” – Magic Mobile by Michael Frayn

Hello? How are you? Are you well? I mean, considering everything that is going on at the minute – are you okay? You are! Good. Great! That’s wonderful news. (Sorry if you didn’t answer ‘good’ or ‘great’ there – for the purposes of this review, you need to be good or great, you have to be functioning at a sort of manic John Cleese level – which seems appropriate given that we’re talking about a new book by the man who wrote the screenplay for John Cleese’s Clockwise movie.)

Magic Mobile is a short collection of flash fiction, 35 stories that aren’t really stories, told at breakneck speed (to be read as if shouted in your ear by an angry John Cleese). First of all, the form. We love flash fiction. Revenge of the Lawn is one of our all-time faves. We’re not sure Frayn quite feels the same way about the form that we do. There’s a hint of something ever so slightly Daily Telegraph about the whole endeavour, as if each of these epistles from the apostles were dashed off at a moment of high dudgeon.

And so, we have stories in which computers have had enough and respond to their masters with venom and vitriol, and stories in which sat navs have had enough and respond to their masters with venom and vitriol, and stories that seem to inspired by junk mail, and stories that seek to explore what it might be like to reframe a Cabinet reshuffle using Greek gods, and stories in which a person asks their other half to get eggs from the shop only for their other half to respond as if they were a politician, and there are stories that are a bit snide about the sort of people who run creative writing classes, and stories that riff on people who would be writers even though they haven’t written anything yet asking Shakespeare for a bit of help (that could, quite possibly, have been inspired by people asking Frayn himself for help, Frayn being no slouch in the old playwriting department, being responsible, as he is, for Noises Off, recently chosen as one of the nation’s three favourite plays), and stories that drone on about gadgets and stories that rewrite Beckett or take issue with endless productions of Pride and Prejudice on the old gogglebox and…

It is, in truth, a bit exhausting, even though each story can be read in about a minute. We would consider ourselves Frayn fans – in recent years, we’ve loved Headlong and Spies and Skios – but this was not really for us. You could say that the whole thing is so frothy and light, it’s hard to take exception with, that if you don’t really like it, the fault lies with you not having a sense of humour. But it’s not frothy and light, it’s like whipped egg whites that have been made using gone off eggs. I imagine that there will be a lot of Middle Englanders (or Middle Class Englanders at any rate) who get an almighty kick out of this, but for me it’s a little like Michael McIntyre: it leaves me cold.

Any Cop?: The flash fiction equivalent of John Cleese hitting his car with a great big tree branch. After three… “Right! That does it!”

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