cover image My Father's Fortune: A Life

My Father's Fortune: A Life

Michael Frayn, Metropolitan, $25 (270p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9377-3

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. (Mar.)