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Headlong by Michael Frayn
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Headlong (1999)

by Michael Frayn

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Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
An interesting story, as much as I wanted to shake some sense into the main character. A young couple goes for the summer to their country house and are asked to look at some old paintings that the local impoverished gentry has. The wife is an art historian and the husband a philosopher with some leanings to art history. He believes that one of the pieces is a lost and previously unknown Old Master but the real story is his complete obssesion with learning about it and trying to posses it by various nefarious means. No one comes out looking good in all of this; he gets so caught up in it that he manages to sabotage his marriage and the fate of the pieces. The owner and his wife are dealing backhandedly as well; the husband to try and shop the paintings else and the wife thinks it's all about seducing her away from her awful marriage. Of course, nothing good comes from it but the journey is compelling and the background research very interesting. The final few chapters were exasperating, though, as Martin is completely done in by his own myopia about the picture. I know that was the point but I just wanted someone, sometime, to tell the truth.
  amyem58 | Jul 14, 2014 |
Enjoyed the Bruegel mystery tour very much, and the first third of the book while it was setting the scene. But for me the farce of the last third of the book didn't really succeed and I did skip over quite a bit of the last few chapters, wanting to hear the plot but not all the detail. ( )
  Ma_Washigeri | Jun 17, 2014 |
An entertaining read about a young husband who is convinced he's found an unknown painting by Brueghel in his neighbour's house. He goes at lenghts to obtain the painting without arousing his neighbour's suspicion and goes digging into the history of the painting and the painter, which is basically the history of the 16th century of the Low Countries. The tone is light, humorous (the fooler fooled) and quite cozy. Recommended, although at times a bit too long-winded to my taste. ( )
  JustJoey4 | Jun 13, 2012 |
In this book we have two academics who have relocated to the country to write books. They are approached by the cash-poor local gentryman to give him some idea of the value of certain paintings in his decaying mansion. On viewing one of the paintings, Martin, the husband, feels his heart stop, when he believes he is looking at a Breughel. And not just any Breughel, but one of the long-supposed missing paintings from a series of the seasons painted by Breughel. (The Harvesters in the Metropolitan in NYC is one of the series.)

The book is somewhat schizophrenic. On the one hand, it is a comedy of errors, as Martin tries to acquire the Breughel without the owner becoming aware of its value, and at the same time must convince his wife that this is the honorable thing to do since the owner will only sell it to a private collector who will keep it in a vault where no one can see this masterpiece. And, Martin discovers, the owner is more wily than suspected, and comes to the table with dirty hands himself.

On the other hand, there is a great deal of discussion of art history, focused of course on Netherlandish art and Breughel in particular. I found the art history research fascinating, though it tended at times to interrupt the narrative flow, which might annoy some readers. ( )
1 vote arubabookwoman | Jun 29, 2011 |
But by now I can't see the picture anymore -I'm ceasing to take it in. My eye's flickering back and forth too fast in its excitement, and my mind's clouded with anguish. Because it's all too obvious. It's so blindingly evident what this picture is that it can't be so, or someone else would have recognized it already. Yes, who else has seen it? How can even these two fools not know what it is?
I daren't think the name of its creator to myself, because it simply cannot be so.


It didn't take long for me to start to detest the arrogant, pig-headed 'hero' of the book and his bumbling attempts at investigating the origin of a painting while on sabbatical from his job as a university lecturer. How someone so useless and badly-organised could ever have had an academic career, or hoped to pull off a complicated con like that, is beyond me. He was obsessed by his hopes for his discovery, but failed go about things in a remotely sensible way. And the patronising and dismissive way he behaved towards his wife made me wish she would put weed-killer in his coffee or a carving knife between his shoulder-blades. Unfortunately he remained alive, but he didn't get what he wanted either, which mollified me a bit. I know he was supposed to be irritating, but possibly not quite that much! ( )
  isabelx | Jan 1, 2011 |
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I have a discovery to report.
(French translation) J'ai fait une découverte. Le monde doit le savoir.
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Book description
Invited to dinner by a boorish local landowner, Martin Clay, as easily distracted philosopher, and his art historian wife are asked to assess three sooty paintings languishing in a damp corner. But hiding beneath the dirt is nothing less-Martin believes-than a priceless lost old master. So begins a hilarious trail of lies and concealments, desperate schemes, and soaring hopes as Martin, betting all that he wons and much that he doesn't, embarks on a quest to prove his hunch, win his wife over, and seperate the painting from its owner. (0-312026746-0)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312267460, Paperback)

With its sumptuous surfaces and alluring sense of gravitas, classic Dutch painting has fascinated writers for centuries. It's easy to see why. Giant religious representations and gaudy classical scenes already have the weight of literature behind them. But an enigmatic portrait or dimly lit interior seems like a virtual incubator for narrative, and now Michael Frayn joins the Netherlandish fray in Headlong, which features a Bruegel canvas in the starring role.

The other star of the novel is youngish art historian Martin Clay (a Hugh Grant character gone to fat), who identifies the lost Bruegel in a tumbledown country home. The picture elicits an immediate shock of recognition:

Already, somewhere in those first few instants, something has begun to stir inside me. In my head, in the pit of my stomach. It's as if the sun's emerging from the clouds, and the world's changing in front of my eyes, from grey to golden. I can feel the warmth of the sunlight spreading over my skin, passing like a wave of beneficence through my entire body.
The sight of this masterwork glimmering through the "grimy pane of time" fires up Martin's customarily dilettantish intellect, and he decides to secure it for the nation--and make himself a fortune--without revealing its true value to the owner. Much double-dealing, bamboozling, and suppressed hysteria ensue as he and the owner try to outfox each other. Yet the heart of the novel is Martin's search for the meaning of the painting that has become his "triumph and torment and downfall." Bouncing from gallery to museum to library, he delivers an extended (and entertaining) lesson on iconography and landscape.

As Martin's obsession takes hold, the pace of the novel also accelerates into a breathless rush of action, comic anguish, and scholarly speculation. Not surprisingly, some of Martin's machinations go haywire, which leads to a certain amount of irritating slapstick--shady deals in underground parking lots, art treasures being tipped into the back of a filthy Land Rover, and so forth. But even if he makes his plot work overtime, Frayn is superb in the quest for the meaning of art, not to mention the lure of money and intellectual reputation. And for that alone, Headlong deserves to be called picture perfect. --Eithne Farry

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:50:21 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

A British comedy in which academic Martin Clay is asked by a boorish country squire to assess his paintings. Clay spots what he suspects is a Bruegel and so begins a tale of lies and concealment as he schemes to separate the painting from its owner. By the author of Now You Know.… (more)

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