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Headlong Paperback – 5 Jun 2000

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber; New edition edition (5 Jun. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571201474
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571201471
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 982,793 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Dutch art has become fashionable with 90s novelists. Witness Deborah Moggach's Tulip Fever, set in 1630s' Amsterdam where a painted portrait is the focus for a tale of doomed love. Or Tracy Chevalier's Girl With a Pearl Earring, which centres on Vermeer's prosperous household in Delft in the 1660s. Michael Frayn has joined the Flemish fray in Headlong, where a Bruegel has a starring role. With these paintings the author can step into a story rather than a myth. Big religious representations and gaudy weight of literature behind them. But an enigmatic portrait, a picture of a dimly lit interior or frolicking peasants is a tale waiting to be told. They're an invitation to interpretation and Frayn's narrator accepts this role with alacrity.

Youngish art historian Martin Clay (a Hugh Grant character gone to fat) identifies a lost Bruegel in a tumble-down country home. His intellectual dilettantism becomes focused by the arresting sight of a painting glimmering through the "grimy pane of time" and he decides to secure the painting for the nation, and a fortune for himself, without letting the owner discover its true value. There follows much double-dealing, bamboozling and suppressed hysteria as Martin and the owner try to outwit each other. At the heart of the novel is Martin's search for the meaning of the painting that has become his fate, his "triumph and torment and downfall". He pitches from gallery to museum to library delivering an extended history lesson on iconography, iconology, landscape and the ever elusive story in the Bruegel. As his obsession takes hold, the pace of the novel picks up too, a breathless rush of action, comic anguish and scholarly speculation. At points there is some irritating slapstick--shady deals in underground car parks, art treasures being tipped into the back of a mucky Landrover, as Martin's machinations go haywire, and disaster looms.

Frayn is good on the quest for the meaning of art and the lure of money and intellectual reputation, even if the plot is made to work too hard. Martin so beautifully describes the Bruegels he's studying that the reader cannot help wanting to look at them too, to step out of the story and into the picture. Thus, Headlong might have benefited from a set of illustrations. Of course, the whole novel could be an elaborate, enjoyable art hoax, and the Breugels he's describing don't actually exist at all. And if that's the case, it's very successfully done.

--Eithne Farry --This text refers to the hardcover edition of this title

Running time approx 2 hours 20 minutes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'Frayn's plot - a high-precision feat of fictional engineering - accelerates exhilaratingly . . . a black and brilliant comedy of uncertainties.' -- Sunday Times

'Ingenious ... As entertaining as it is intelligent, as stimulating as it is funny.' -- New York Times

'As you are dragged into this headlong race for fame and fortune, you never know what will happen next, only that more torture lies in store.' --Independent on Sunday --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Graeme on 2 Oct. 2000
Format: Paperback
A philosopher turned art historian chances upon a rare find in a debilitated country house - a lost painting by Bruegel, the 16th century Flemish master. There are only two problems - how can he coax it from its (semi-) legitimate owner, and how can he really be sure it's genuine, certain enough to jeopardize his wife and daughter's future?
What transpires is a headlong plunge into shame and hypocrisy. The Babel-like demolition of Martin's aspiring academic pride is painfully inevitable. Drawn deeper and deeper into a self-constructed conspiracy theory - the politicization of Bruegel's "Months" - he decides that he must possess the painting at any cost, or, rather, the attendant glory of its restoration to the world. The result is a dizzying fall from grace, scorched by his selfish, reckless ambition.
You will certainly enjoy it if, like me, you are a lover of Bruegel's beautiful paintings. I found the art history intriguing - a trail of evidence in search of a crime, and a powerful deconstruction of the terrifying political and social climate in which Bruegel worked.
The book benefits greatly from having to hand the paintings it describes - these allow you to investigate for yourself the illuminating details picked out by the narrator. I recommend Bruegel, by Keith Roberts: it has a concise biography and excellent, full-page, colour reproductions of the "Months" and other paintings described throughout the book.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By ricardop@pursehouse.freeserve.co.uk on 20 Oct. 1999
Format: Hardcover
Frayn has produced a witty and erudite book, which is smoothly written, witty, and has .... a plot (shock for a Booker shortlisted novel). If you can wade through the art history information (that is used as a sort of sixteenth century Inspector Morse story line), you will enjoy the whole experience.
For what it is worth I was on the "People's Jury" on Channel Four, discussing the six books on the Booker Shortlist. Two of us (myself included) voted this the best out of the six. If you want something a bit different, that involves the reader as a co-conspiritor in the murky events, then this is the book for you. The ending takes you through a brilliant roller coaster of 'will they or won't they succeed'. I will leave you to delight in the ending.
Excellent stuff. A worthy Booker shortlisted book, and best of the bunch in my opinion.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 14 Sept. 2000
Format: Paperback
If Michael Frayn can get an audience thinking that they had the potential to become a nuclear-scientist if only they had got that GCSE in Physics, as he demonstrated in his huge stage success, Copenhagen, then in Headlong he demonstrates the ease in which his readers could slip into rusty, tweed-jackety academia. He opens up art history, giving fascinating desciptions of not just the paintings, but the historical context in which they were painted. So you get three novels in one - a rural farce, a treatsise on art and a social history thrown into one. I thought it was an excellent read - it reminded me very much of David Lodge's Small World. It's one of those books you want to read again when you have finished. I agree though that you need the pictures there with you (although he has such an amazing way with words that he brings the paintings alive through his words). But if that makes you buy another book, surely that's so much the better (Wouldn't you at Amazon agree! ). I'm sure sales of the Taschen series on Breugel must have shot up. It would be interesting to find out if that is the case.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By FictionFan TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 13 Sept. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Here we have a perfect example of how a book can affect people in very different ways. Highly recommended by several people whose opinions I value and with whom I often find myself in agreement, I assumed I would love this book. Hmm!

When our first-person narrator, Martin Clay, is invited by his cartoonishly-oafish country bumpkin neighbour to look at his art collection, Martin (though hardly an expert) thinks he has spotted a missing Breugel. Martin then plots how to acquire this painting for himself, ostensibly to have the honour of being the one who discovered it, but the two million or so he expects to get for it is a further motivation.

There seems to be an unfortunate habit developing amongst authors whereby they do a ton of research and then decide they're going to use it all - every single word - loosely bunging a flimsy plot into the gaps and then calling it a novel. At least sixty percent of this book is Frayn regurgitating the history of the 16th century Netherlands together with everything he could find on Breugel. Not subtly weaving it into the story and not with any redeeming beauty of writing - just pouring it out in a 'Look what I know!' kind of way.

"On the table in front of me I have Friedländer (of course), Glück, Grossman, Tolnay, Stechow, Genaille and Bianconi.
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