by Michael Frayn
The title Headlong gives the impression of speed and a certain casual indifference to the consequences. And in some ways, the title as an apt description of the books central character, Martin Clay. However, it is a long way short of describing the book itself, which I found slow and frustrating.
The story begins when Martin and his wife, Kate and baby daughter, Tilda, are invited to dinner with their neighbours. When asked to look at some paintings by his host, Martin thinks he has discovered a long lost Bruegel. And that is the point at which the writer and myself part company somewhat. Not only did I not know who Bruegel was, but had no real interest in finding out. But find out I did!
In-between Michael’s farcical attempts to see the painting without raising suspicion in his reckless and almost disastrous foray into the art world, there are some amusing comic moments, but not enough to counter balance the infuriating meanderings into the history of art and religion in 16th century Netherlands.
I have nothing against the mixing of fact and fiction in a book. I have ready many books that have taught me new ideas and opened up interesting avenues for my own research, but in this case, it became far too distracting. I actually found myself skipping whole pages just to try to get back to the central story.
There is an interesting and witty farce in there somewhere, but there is just far too much padding for my liking. If Frayn had wanted to write a book about Bruegel then he should have done so, and not tried to disguise it as comic fiction!
Frayn is a good writer, and anyone who hasn’t seen his play “Noises Off” really needs to add it to their bucket list, but for me “Headlong” was a disappointment. This plot in the hands of someone like Tom Sharpe could have been a masterpiece, but here it just didn’t work.