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Michael Frayn Biography

(1933– ), Manchester Guardian, Observer, The Tin Man, The Russian Interpreter, Towards the Edge of the Morning

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British novelist and playwright; he was born, brought up, and educated in the South London suburbs, took a degree in moral philosophy at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, became proficient as a Russian speaker during his National Service, and became a journalist, writing humorous columns first for the Manchester Guardian, then for the Observer. His novels include The Tin Man (1965); The Russian Interpreter (1966); Towards the Edge of the Morning (1968), a comic picture of Fleet Street life and middle-class mores; A Very Private Life (1968), a wryly philosophical investigation of a utopia which promises total comfort and content; and A Landing on the Sun (1991), which concerns the mystery surrounding the death of a civil servant, Stephen Summerchild, rumoured to be working on a top-secret defence project for Harold Wilson's government in the early 1970s. He has also published a book of philosophic mini-essays and apophthegms, Constructions (1974). But it is for his plays that he has become best known. These include Alphabetical Order (1975), set in a newspaper library that becomes less chaotic and more orderly as the evening proceeds; Donkeys' Years (1976), about an unruly Cambridge college reunion; Clouds (1976), in which a group of journalists take a guided tour round modern Cuba, their relationship subtly shifting as they go; Make and Break (1980), set in and around a trade fair in Germany; Noises Off (1982), a highly successful farce showing disasters on-stage and off-stage during the provincial tour of a less successful farce; Benefactors (1984), about the embattled private and public life of a municipal architect; Look Look (1990), an attempt to explore the individual and collective psychology of members of a theatre audience; Here (1993), about a young couple's attempt to bring order both to their lives and to the tiny flat in which they live; and Now You Know (1995), the dramatic version of a novel of the same title published in 1994, which involves campaigners against government secrecy and investigates questions of openness and privacy on both public and private levels. Frayn's forte is comedy, sometimes high comedy, but comedy that always has serious and sometimes sombre resonances. His most characteristic theme is the difficulty of finding shape in or imposing order on a world that is complex, changeable, and often extremely disorderly. He has also made numerous translations and adaptations from the Russian, among them Tolstoy's Fruits of Enlightenment, Trifinov's comic picture of housing problems in Moscow, Exchange, and the plays of the dramatist he has admitted to regarding as his favourite, Chekhov.

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