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3.59 of 5 stars 3.59  ·  rating details  ·  1,604 ratings  ·  207 reviews
Paperback, 400 pages
Published 2001 (first published 1999)
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I like boffin comeuppance humor – the kind where some bloviating egghead from the remotest groves of academe finds that his cluelessness about real life can come back to bite him. Martin, a second-rate professor of philosophy and a first-rate pedant, is the storyteller in this one. As you already know, the joke is on him. His new research interests concern art, iconology, nominalism, and assorted other obscurities. His wife is an art historian specializing in iconography (as opposed to iconology...more
Yaffa Shira
I'm sure it is a well written and entertaining book for some people, clearly the author is a good one. He is good with words and has excellent insights and ways to describe the tension and distance between wife and husband. I hated reading this book, and could not wait until it was over. I refused to put it down, and forced myself to get thru it. I did not understand, nor was I interested in the descriptions of pieces of (perhaps) famous artwork. These art history lessons went on for dozens of p...more
Derek Bridge
Ever erudite, Michael Frayn always uses his deep knowledge of philosophy to inveigle something deeper into what, on the surface, might appear to be no more than comic novels. At one level, Headlong is a comic romp: we follow Martin Clay as he attempts to seize from his dull-witted neighbour what he thinks is a long-lost painting from Pieter Bruegel's series The Months. On another level, Frayn is excellent on academic obsession. What for some readers of this novel is a turgid interlude, for me at...more
Maria Thermann
Huge entertaining and informative, Michael Frayn's book about an art historian turned frantic detective is a delight from start to finish. I simply coudn't put it down and when it ended, I went straight to my local library to get out books about the Netherlands and old Dutch masters!

The book will not only appeal to readers who like art history, it's a hilarious account of an otherwise inept man trying to track down an old masterpiece. A giant jigsaw puzzle that spans several centuries, the prota...more
A fairly dreary comedy of manners (oh, aren't country folk funny? Oh, aren't academics silly?) married to a fairly dreary recitation of the actually rather fascinating history of religion and art in the Netherlands in the sixteenth century.

The material could have been brilliant in an Umberto Ecoish way, but it wasn't. Neither side worked for me - the narrator managed to be smug, self-pitying and irritating all at once, the other characters were all flat and generic, the plot was obvious and hack...more

I see that I had started this once before and gave up. I'm glad I returned to it, but I confess to ambivalent feelings now that I've made it to the end.

Martin Clay is a British philosopher who can never seem to finish his projects, married to a younger wife, Kate. Together, they and new baby Tilda go to the dilapidated country house they visit in the summer, ostensibly so that Martin can finish a book about nominalism in the Netherlands that you can tell he barely cares about.

To their surprise,...more
This tragi-comic novel is about Martin, a philosophy professor and academic who discovers a painting that he thinks is a long-lost Bruegel. Specifically, he thinks it is the painting missing from the series known as The Season or The Twelve Months. Unfortunately, Martin discovers this lost masterwork in the hands of his uncultured neighbor, Tony Churt, who is only interested in converting the painting into ready cash with which to keep his mismanaged estate afloat. Out of an absurd combination o...more
What a frustrating book... It *should* have been a very interesting book, good premise and good writer (from other books I've read of his prior to this one) but somehow between way too much academic research and one-dimensional characters it fell off the rails. I really, really wanted to like it, but just didn't.
Catherine Hurst
I found this book very readable and the mystery within to be fast-paced and page-turning. And there were many very funny parts where I truly laughed outloud. (I kept imagining Hugh Grant making the observations of the narrator, and that made it even more amusing for me!) I liked the combination of the present discovery of the art mystery of the past that was done so well in Josephine Tey's "The Daughter of Time." It's plausible to believe that the narrator, who has studied Dutch philosophy, art,...more
A major disappointment...

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 acq...more
Once I began Headlong I realized I'd skimmed through it before. It's a great novel for anyone interested in art history. Also Michael Frayn is married to the biographer Claire Tomalin AND his two protagonists are Martin who is married to Kate!!!
Martin and Kate, both academics, have gone to their country cottage with their infant daughter to work on their respective books though Martin is having a lot of trouble focusing. They get involved with their neighbors, Tony Churt and his young wife, Laur...more
I couldn't tell whether the author was being deliberately pendantic, arrogant, and judgmental of those not in the know because his character was supposed to be that way, or whether it really was like reading Chritopher Hitchens on art. The story of a (non art expert) who thinks he has unwittingly uncovered a long missing Bruegel, and his machinations to acquire the piece at all costs (for the sake of the world, he claims, but it seems the money doesn't hurt). Quite an annoying character. Some wa...more

Af first i really enjoyed this book - seemed to be introduving some interesting characters and an intriguing opening scenario. But it rapidly turned into what I see as a typical attempt at the booker candidate, for which you need a well written book of course, but importantly with a focus on an obscure and narrow subject, ideally with its own esoteric vocabulary, eg Japanese garden design, German 1920s architecture or (in this case) Belgian painters of the mid 16th century.

I have simple tastes -...more
One of Frayn's lighter works, but enjoyable nonetheless. A weak plot is put in service of an enjoyable analysis of Bruegel's paintings and, eventually, the painter himself (it helps to come to the book with some knowledge of his oeuvre as this may heighten your reading enjoyment). As the story goes on the plot and characters become less important. If you have an interest in 16th century Dutch painting, the intellectual fervor centered around Antwerp or the details of the Counter-Reformation, thi...more
Feb 03, 2014 Joann rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: british humor buffs and artists
Recommended to Joann by: Nancy
Wild rush into the world of art by people motivated by a bit of greed and hubris who choose to think they know what they are doing, but don't, leading to all sorts of farcical complications and problems.

Yes, it helps to enjoy British humour and at least be somewhat interested in art to get the most enjoyment from this, but I found it well written, well paced and headlong funny.
Brent Legault
Dec 05, 2007 Brent Legault rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: art thugs, fey gunsels
I love books about fools. Especially bold fools. And the boldest fools are the fools who don't know what fools they are. The "hero" of this story is one of those. The book is neither mystery nor art history pastiche. It is a story of obsession. And to me there are few things funnier than an obsessed Englishman. Complaints? It's a little too light-weight, a bit too broad.
Disappointing. Starts out as a potentially intriguing exploration of people's inner lives and how those inner lives entwine entirely subjectively with other people's inner lives, but about 2/3rds of the way through seems to lose its nerve, chucks in a couple of tabloid plot twists, and fails uselessly.
Oh well.
If you like art in historical context, there are things to like here. I could have done without some of the extramarital nonsense though... Don't read unless you REALLY want to hear about the Netherlands of the 17th century...
A boorish English Art History student married his senior thesis with a banal attempt at the comedy of English class warfare in the country. This book is so bad it's not worth finishing. The writing style is stale and it suffers from lack of editing as well as being overworked. Congrats to the author for this two pronged accomplishment.
Having said this, it is the perfect book to start reading on a airplane and then lose in the airport lounge, it's entertaining for the first six chapters and that'...more
The main character of this book, a philosophy professor, finds a work of art in a neighbor's home that he thinks may be one of the most famous lost paintings in history. He immediately begins researching the artist he thinks painted it, as well as the time period he lived in (Netherlands in the 1500s), to prove that the painting really is what he thinks it is. The only problem is that he has an extremely difficult time getting a good look at the painting because he doesn't want the owner to know...more
Kristen McDermott
Frayn, best known as a playwright (Noises Off and 2000's Tony-winning Copenhagen), has constructed a cerebral farce about a philosophy professor who believes he's found a lost painting by a Flemish Master (to tell you who would spoil some of the surprise). Martin Clay is a believable mix of likable and unlikable qualities, and the story is so carefully constructed that we have little trouble accepting a reasonable man's willingness to jeopardize his career, his savings, and his marriage to obtai...more
I had really high hopes for this book and was both disappointed and bored - I probably wouldn't have even finished the book if we weren't for the fact that we are reading it for our book group this month. It was described as a funny, sort of mystery about a painting, promising to mix in art history with a snafu involving delightful characters. But in reality it was formulaic, disjointed and poorly executed - the book switches between long, boring diatribes about Netherlandish art (perhaps intere...more
I'm early on in "Headlong" but liking it. Frayn writes very very well, as everyone's review will tell you and we're treated to a back and forth between renaissance history and the touching and beautifully displayed inner lives of a well matched, loving couple. It is quaint and intimate.

So it hurts all the more as things come unraveled for them, and unravel they do in a plot that can be perfectly described as "Fargo-ian" and yes I mean the movie murder farce where the antagonist is SO stupid that...more
In many ways Headlong follows the model of the tragedy, in that the outcome is the inevitable result of a fatal mistake by the main character, philosopher Martin Clay. For those who prefer the definition of tragedy as hinging on a fatal character flaw, Clay is a gloriously flawed character. He is self-absorbed, dismissive, delusional, presumptuous, pedantic, duplicitous, deceitful, withholds information, jealous, and insecure. I won’t give away which of these flaws is his downfall.

The outcome m...more
Vic Heaney
I am reading this book for two reasons.

One is that my wife and I were doing a 5-day route march. Our bags were being moved on daily by a service. We knew the bags would be unattended and vulnerable for most of each day so, even though I am currently in the middle of another book on my Kindle, I did not want to leave the Kindle in a position where it could disappear or be injured. So I picked a "real" book from the waiting pile.

The other is that, in my youth, I used to read the Manchester Guardi...more
This is a great book. It's scholarly and very funny. It tells the story of Martin Clay, a scholar from the city who, while on holiday in the English countryside, discovers what he suspects is a missing Bruegel painting in a rundown country landowner's house. The plot mostly concerns Clay's attempts to confirm the authenticity of the painting (herein is the scholarly bit, which will be very pleasing to anyone who enjoys detective fiction and has more than a casual interest in historical painting)...more
I learned some art history and particularly the historical context of the Dutch painter Bruegel during the Spanish inquisition and what his paintingsmight really portray. Particularly how the symbols he used might be interpreted in their historical context. It was also new information to me that the Netherlands suffered the same kind of persecution during this time-having been one of the many victims of Spanish imperialism. I hadn't known much about this Dutch painter until I read this book and...more
I selected "Headlong" as a monthly pick for my bookclub since I had read positive reviews and the book had been shortlisted for the 1999 Booker Prize. Not everyone in my book club enjoyed it or for that matter even finished it. Then again, that book club was notorious for not reading the book.

I had mixed feelings about Frayn's art history farce. I hadn't know that much about the Dutch masters, so was happy to be exposed to Bruegel and learn a little bit about his art by reading this novel. A bi...more
Anne Charnock
Gossip and false accusation are the underlying themes of Pieter Bruegel’s cycle of paintings entitled The Twelve Months and in Michael Frayn’s tragi-comic novel Headlong a previously unknown painting from this cycle surfaces in the shabby country home of the Churts. When scholarly neighbour Martin Clay catches sight of the painting he hatches a plan to defraud the Churts of this priceless work of art. His equally scholarly wife reluctantly becomes embroilled. There’s a culture clash between the...more
Sandy D.
A suspense novel that I helped pick out for my book club - I thought the cover blurbs sounded really interesting.

And parts of the book were really interesting - a pompous academic finds a painting he believes is a lost Bruegel in a country house in England, and goes on to try to authenticate it and get it away from its current owner (who may or may not legally own it).

Problem was, I hated the main character/narrator. He was not only pompous, he was unfaithful (in all but the letter of the law),...more
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Michael Frayn is an English playwright and novelist. He is best known as the author of the farce Noises Off and the dramas Copenhagen and Democracy. His novels, such as Towards the End of the Morning, Headlong and Spies, have also been critical and commercial successes, making him one of the handful of writers in the English language to succeed in both drama and prose fiction. His works often rais...more
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Noises Off Copenhagen Spies Skios Towards the End of the Morning

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“Early spring, yes. It's one of those cautiously hopeful days at the beginning of April, after the clocks have made their great leap forward but before the weather or the more suspicious trees have quite had the courage to follow them, and Kate and I are traveling north in a car crammed with food and books and old saucepans and spare pieces of furniture.” 1 likes
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