Friday, 8 June 2001

Michael Frayn: The Russian Interpreter (1966)

Edition: Penguin, 1967
Review number: 835

Frayn's second novel is more interesting than his first, The Tin Men, and shows the influence of Evelyn Waugh (in, say, Scoop) rather than J.B. Priestley. Paul Manning takes on part time Russian-English interpreting while working in Moscow to complete his Ph.D. thesis. He then meets the gorgeous Raya, and begins an affair, but makes the mistake of introducing him to his employer, English businessman Gordon Proctor-Gould. Raya and Gordon begin an affair of their own but, having no language in common, have to bully Paul into acting as their interpreter.

This being Soviet Russia, political aspects to this situation quickly emerge, with the thought occurring to both Paul and Gordon that Raya might turn out to be a police spy. Raya acts quite strangely, and starts pilfering Gordon's possessions; either she is forced to steal by poverty or psychology, or the thefts have a more sinister purpose.

There are numerous parallels with Scoop, particularly in terms of the characters. Paul, for example, is very similar except for his profession, to William Boot, while Raya is reminiscent of Kätchen. However, The Russian Interpreter is nothing like as funny as Waugh and, like several other Frayn novels, leaves me thinking that he is a good playwright.

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