An unlikely con man wagers wife, wealth, and sanity in pursuit of an elusive Old Master.
Invited to dinner by the boorish local landowner, Martin Clay, an easily distracted philosopher, and his art-historian wife are asked to assess three dusty paintings blocking the draught from the chimney. But hiding beneath the soot is nothing less-Martin believes-than a lost work by Bruegel. So begins a hilarious trail of lies and concealments, desperate schemes and soaring hopes as Martin, betting all that he owns and much that he doesn't, embarks on a quest to prove his hunch, win his wife over, and separate the painting from its owner.
In Headlong, Michael Frayn, "the master of what is seriously funny" (Anthony Burgess), offers a procession of superbly realized characters, from the country squire gone to seed to his giddy, oversexed young wife. All are burdened by human muddle and human cravings; all are searching for a moral compass as they grapple with greed, folly, and desire. And at the heart of the clamor is Breugel's vision, its dark tones warning of the real risks of temptation and obsession.
With this new novel, Michael Frayn has given us entertainment of the highest order. Supremely wise and wickedly funny, Headlong elevates Frayn into the front rank of contemporary novelists.
Frayn, a highly successful playwright (Noises Off) as well as a novelist of note (A Landing on the Sun; Now You Know), is an odd combination of skilled farceur and scholar, and these strands in his work seem somewhat at odds in this new novel, his first in six years. It is an intellectual comedy, veering occasionally into knockabout, revolving around a philosophical historian, Martin Clay, and his discovery, in the dilapidated manor house of a frightful country neighbor, of a painting he believes to be a missing Bruegel. The comedy arises from Martin's efforts to ascertain its provenance, raise some money for a token payment and somehow spirit the painting away from the churlish Tony Churt, calm the suspicions of his art historian wife, Kate, who is surprised by his sudden interest in her field, and fend off the advances of the highly flirtatious Laura Churt. Frayn is wonderfully funny about English country life, the mustier byways of art history, the art auction business and the deviousness that lurks within apparently mild-mannered art historians. But he has obviously read up extensively on Bruegel, his period and the possible political symbolism of the series of paintings of the seasons to which Churt's picture apparently belongs; and Frayn cannot resist giving the benefits of his scholarship back to the reader, at often exhaustive length, entirely halting his promisingly frolicsome narrative in the process. His attempts to give his lighthearted plot some intellectual weight almost sink the good parts--a pity, since Frayn proves himself again and again a highly civilized entertainer, and the good parts are both funny and true. 50,000 first printing; 7-city author tour.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Funny & Engaging
It has been a long time since I read this book but it is quite the caper plot with lots of shenanigans and deception. For a fun read and nothing too serious, I recommend this book but not 5 stars!...EAF