The Copenhagen Papers
Michael Frayn & David Burke
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Buy *The Copenhagen Papers: An Intrigue* online

The Copenhagen Papers: An Intrigue

Michael Frayn & David Burke
Picador USA
144 pages
January 2003
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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What is one to make of this book? It is subtitled as an “intrigue”, and reading it, one would suppose it was the factual telling of a real-life intrigue. Indeed, it contains no fictitious characters: simply the two authors themselves, telling half each of a story, taking turns, about these “Copenhagen Papers.”

Discovered underneath the floorboards of a house that was used in World War II to house the very scientists whose machinations put together the infamous atomic bombs, these papers are at once mysterious and misleading. The authors tell us they were fake – but can we believe them?

It is not only the papers that arouse suspicion in any reader of this book: even the people who accompany the authors through the telling are suspicious. What’s more – they cannot spell! Neither can they write good German or Russian, which – as we are told – the Copenhagen papers are written in.

The whole story threatens to overbalance the reader’s suspension of disbelief. What are these men doing – are they making fun of what happened during the war, or making fun of their own friendship? Indeed, there are times during the story when the relationship of Michael Frayn, a respected playwright, and David Burke, a well-known actor, is pushed to the brink of resistance. Surely these men cannot remain friends.

The reader, too, is pushed to the brink of patience and credence. It is very hard to believe that grown men would pull such pranks, and even write about them. It is doubly hard to believe there are publishers in the world willing to issue such a funny little book, worth reading for its curiosity value alone. It resists categorisation, and sometimes resists the will of the reader to discard it with a puff of impatience.

Whether you are a reader of nonfiction, fiction, biographies, or the antics of World War II physicists, this little book will raise your eyebrows. If you know a little German, it will make you laugh. If you know a little of what goes on between playwrights and the actors who put their works before us, it will certainly make you wonder how on earth they manage to produce a whole play that looks so apparently professional and seamless on the stage.

The story is a simple one: some papers are discovered by a woman who goes to see a play by Michael Frayn called "Copenhagen". She is surprised to find there is a connection. She writes to the author of the play and sends him some pages written in German. The playwright’s interest is so intense that the woman’s son starts to ask for money. Then it all goes very, very strange.

This is a strange book, which readers will either love or hate. They may try to place it in some pigeonhole, but believe me, they will not have much success.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Rosanne Dingli, 2004

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