Thursday, May 9, 2013

Headlong by Michael Frayn

I am not even sure how to write about Headlong (1999) by Michael Frayn. Headlong is an apt title as from page one to the final sentence some 342 pages later, the recklessness never stops. 

The story has to do with British philosopher, Martin Clay, finding what he thinks is a lost masterpiece by the Flemish Renaissance artist Bruegel being used to block the chimney draft in a not-so-gently aging British manor house owned by Tony Churt.

Tony has asked Martin to assess the value of another painting that has been in the family and the sale of which might just provide the funds needed to keep the estate going.

When Martin spies what he thinks to be the Bruegel, his scheming mind takes over in a plan to get Tony his money and to get the Bruegel for himself.

His machinations and duplicity and detailed research (for he is not positive the Bruegel is authentic) come together and go awry at lightening speed. I don't think Martin, who is the narrator of the tale, takes a breath from the beginning of his story to the end.  
All of this is complicated by his art historian wife Kate's wariness of the scheme and the affectionate attentions of Tony Churt's young wife Laura.

This story is wickedly funny. Martin's mind goes a million miles a minute as he tries to overcome the obstacles and setbacks constantly thrown his way. And I thought my mind raced! 

There is much - maybe too much for my liking - scholarly information about the history of the time in which Bruegel painted. I have to admit I skimmed a lot of it, but for some readers that would be a delight. Mostly, I was so in awe of the research Mr. Frayn must have done to add to this tale. It helped to be able to look up images on the computer of many of the paintings mentioned.

This is the first book by Michael Frayn that I have read (thanks to a suggestion by commentor Tullik). Frayn also wrote the play Noises Off which I have seen both live and the movie version. It is hysterically funny and moves non-stop as well. In addition to his novels and plays, he has published collections of his comic essays written for The Guardian and The Observer.

Count on it. I will be looking out for more of Mr. Frayn's work. 

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