My Father's Fortune: A Life

My Father's Fortune: A Life
Published : 2 Sep 2010 - Faber and Faber
MY FATHER'S FORTUNE is a funny and touching memoir from Michael Frayn, in which he goes ‘scrabbling back, as people seem to do when they get older’ to discover the lost land of his family’s history. This is the story of his father, the quick-witted boy from a poor and struggling family, who overcame so many disadvantages and shouldered so many burdens to make a go of his life; who found happiness, had it snatched away from him in a single instant, and in the end, after many difficulties, perhaps found it again. And it is the story of the son, too, as Michael re-examines fragments of his own childhood memories, discovering how absurdly alike, and utterly different, he and his father are, and re-creating the world as it might have seemed through the eyes of the people who shaped him.

The journey back down the corridors of time is sometimes comic, sometimes painful, but it is never less than humane, telling some universal truths about family relationships. And as we go, Michael reminds us – teasingly, truthfully – that every such history is also a construction: each memory a creative act, a choice that makes sense of chaotic experience. MY FATHER'S FORTUNE is a book about a particular childhood and a unique family, but also about the pleasure, pain and difficulty entailed in recreating the past in order to understand one's own identity.


What Frayn presents us with is an effort to establish his own identity by exploring the unknown place represented in his origins. It is, as one would expect from so accomplished a writer, beautifully done ... he is wonderfully good on atmosphere.

New Statesman

There is nothing nebulous about MY FATHER’S FORTUNE, which for all its allusions to the mistiness of memory, is a masterpiece of stylistic, emotional, psychological and sociological exactness. Ranging from comic star turns…to passages of piercingly lucid Larkinesque melancholy, it adroitly modulates between humour and tragedy, ruefulness and celebration, intellectual keenness and elegiac depths of feeling. A writer who has long been one of our most engrossingly inquiring minds, Frayn has never written with more searching brilliance than in this quest for his past.

Peter Kemp, The Sunday Times

Such themes are introduced lightly, perhaps in deference to the spirit of his father, who is unlikely to have approved of too much fancy philosophical speculation. However, even without the autobiographical slant, this memoir would be a fitting tribute to the sort of figure who usually slips between the cracks of the historical record. Often funny, sometimes painful, but always exquisitely well written, it reveals the extraordinariness that can lurk in even the most ordinary of lives.

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, The Sunday Telegraph

This is … a beautiful, deeply felt-book… It’s the kind of testimony that many of us wish too late our parents had left us – and, as such, admirably complete.

Benedict Nightingale, The Times

Forever alert to the inner processes of art and mind Frayn from time to time cuts away and nips backstage to show how the memoir machinery works. Yet, almost miraculously, this keen self-awareness never compromises the deep poignancy – and the rich comedy – of the story he has to tell. Here, as always, that’s part of the trick of it for Frayn.

Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

It's often very funny, always very interesting, and soaked in a wistful sort of melancholy that sometimes deepens into a compelling sadness.

Andrew Motion, The Guardian

...after the outstanding journalism, the brilliant plays – both comic and cerebral – the subtle novels, the masterful translations, one of our best contemporary writers has now made another genre, the family memoir, his own.

The Telegraph

With this slim, moving memoir, Frayn has finally managed to respond to the father he so clearly loved. He does so with immense panache, writing in a way that evokes emotion without ever lapsing into bathos, threading sentences through with a gentle, touching humour...Tom Frayn's life is not particularly exceptional and therein lies its charm – the story reflects the experiences of any number of men and women; that it is told so well is testament to his son's talent.

The Observer

A profoundly affecting study of family myths and legends.

Financial Times

A delightful and wholly unsentimental memoir that balances beautifully the twin responses of tears and laughter.

Judges, Costa Biography Award 2010

Frayn pays tribute here to his quiet influence with a similarly light touch but this is ultimately a profoundly touching piece.

Clare Alfree, Metro

With MY FATHER’S FORTUNE, multi-talented Michael Frayn explored with charm and cunning his resourceful dad’s wayward route from London poverty to far-from-dull suburbia, and in doing so uncovered his own creative roots.

Boyd Tonkin, "Pick of 2010", Independent

Written with such vividness and immediacy that the past seems to spring to life before your eyes.

John Preston, ‘Family memoirs for Christmas’, Daily Mail

A brilliant piece of writing.

Joy Lo Dico, 'Books of the Year', Independent

It seems remarkable that Frayn has waited so long to write about his own life, and the wait alone makes this near-faultless memoir a treat... Frayn revels in bringing to life his exuberant, travelling-salesman father... Frayn’s book is as warm, vivid and endearing as it is modest.

Robert Collins, The Sunday Times

Michael Frayn’s memoir MY FATHER’S FORTUNE celebrates his modest suburban background and his unbookish salesman father with loving precision. Sad, but not miserable despite his mother’s shockingly early death, his book is a model of restraint but full of feeling.

Anne Chisholm, ‘Books of the Year’, Spectator

Michael Frayn’s memoir MY FATHER’S FORTUNE is exemplary; touching, funny, cleverly constructed and kind.

Charlotte Moore, 'Books of the Year', Spectator

Here is a son's proud, gently poking tribute to the remarkable qualities of an ordinary man, if only on the outside.

Publishers Weekly

In his latest offering, acclaimed British novelist Frayn travels the familiar territory of the father-son relationship... Frayn sees himself as slow-witted, unathletic, and sorely lacking in social skills, surely a great disappointment to his father, who dreamed of having a smart cricket player for a son. But he still manages to make his way to Cambridge and enjoy success in the world of words. Frayn, who received the Whitbread Fiction Award for his 2003 novel, SPIES, writes with poignancy and wit about a humble, hardworking man.

Allison Block, Booklist

MY FATHER’S FORTUNE is beautifully rendered and seriously funny.

Glenn C. Altschuler, Boston Globe

The comic gifts of one of our best contemporary writers are not wasted in this memoir. A very English story told in a very English way.

Daily Telegraph

Marvellous memoir ... a writer who has long been one of our most engrossingly inquiring minds, Frayn has never written with more searching brilliance than in this quest for his past.

Sunday Times 'Our Choice'

Heartfelt memoir.

The Times

Frayn's beautifully written memoir of suburban family life is both funny and deeply moving.


The comic gifts of one of our best contemporary writers are not wasted in this memoir. A very English story told in a very English way.

Daily Telegraph

This lovely, loving memoir is an attempt to quantify that legacy, written with effortless humour and grace.


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