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Headlong by Michael Frayn

Headlong (1999)

by Michael Frayn

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Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
Funny in places. Well written. Not a real page turner though. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
I'm normally a fan of all Frayn's work and count him as one of the best living writers we have. However, I'm sorry to say this book is on the whole a significant error of judgement in a wide variety of ways, and only just managed to redeem itself in the last one hundred pages or so. This isn't enough to make it a great work of literature or even a good book.

Here are the issues that are wrong with it:

Martin is a dull and weak man, who thinks of himself far more highly than he needs to. As a result, he's neither strong enough nor attractive enough as a character to carry this story.

The characters, particularly the wife Kate, are very shadowy indeed and really more caricatures than genuine people.

The long and dull ramblings about art and Bruegel are … well … long and rambling. Mind you, the ability to make the magnificent Bruegel dull is itself quite impressive. If Frayn had wanted to write an historical novel, he should have done so, as Martin is not strong enough to make the historical sections interesting. It's more of an info-dump than a narrative.

The first 280 or so pages are mind-numbingly tedious.

Here are the issues that are right with it:

After page 280, the plot suddenly becomes interesting and fast-moving enough for the weak characterisation to be unimportant. Actually, the plot did very much remind me of one of the episodes of Midsomer Murders, but for me that's no bad thing as it's a crime series I enjoy.

The Lady of the Manor Laura finally comes into her own at the end of the novel, though she's still sadly underwritten.

The final page is spot on, and (possibly, though the jury's still out ...) worth the 280 pages of drivel to get there. Much like Wagner then in that you have to suffer through one hell of a lot of opera boredom to arrive at that glorious final note.

Verdict: 2.5 stars (the 0.5 for that end page). Rambling nonsense, with an odd spark of genius here and there. ( )
  AnneBrooke | Jan 24, 2015 |
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 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:15 -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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