Headlong, Paperback Book
2 out of 5 (1 rating)


Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize Headlong begins when Martin Clay, a young would-be art historian, believes he has discovered a missing masterpiece.

The owner of the painting is oblivious to its potential and asks Martin to help him sell it, leaving Martin with the chance of a lifetime: if he could only separate the painter from its owner, he would be able to perform a great public service, to make his professional reputation, perhaps even rather a lot of money as well.

But is the painting really what Martin believes it to be?

As Martin is drawn further into this moral and intellectual labyrinth, events start to spiral out of control...Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Whitbread Novel Award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, Headlong is an ingeniously comic thriller that follows a young philosophy lectuerer's obsessive race through the art world in search of an elusive masterpiece.

Michael Frayn's other novels include Spies, which won the Whitbread Best Novel award, and Skios, which was longlisted for the Booker Prize.


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I'm normally a fan of all Frayn's work and count him as one of the best living writers we have. However, I'm sorry to say this book is on the whole a significant error of judgement in a wide variety of ways, and only just managed to redeem itself in the last one hundred pages or so. This isn't enough to make it a great work of literature or even a good book.Here are the issues that are wrong with it:Martin is a dull and weak man, who thinks of himself far more highly than he needs to. As a result, he's neither strong enough nor attractive enough as a character to carry this story.The characters, particularly the wife Kate, are very shadowy indeed and really more caricatures than genuine people.The long and dull ramblings about art and Bruegel are … well … long and rambling. Mind you, the ability to make the magnificent Bruegel dull is itself quite impressive. If Frayn had wanted to write an historical novel, he should have done so, as Martin is not strong enough to make the historical sections interesting. It's more of an info-dump than a narrative.The first 280 or so pages are mind-numbingly tedious.Here are the issues that are right with it:After page 280, the plot suddenly becomes interesting and fast-moving enough for the weak characterisation to be unimportant. Actually, the plot did very much remind me of one of the episodes of Midsomer Murders, but for me that's no bad thing as it's a crime series I enjoy.The Lady of the Manor Laura finally comes into her own at the end of the novel, though she's still sadly underwritten.The final page is spot on, and (possibly, though the jury's still out ...) worth the 280 pages of drivel to get there. Much like Wagner then in that you have to suffer through one hell of a lot of opera boredom to arrive at that glorious final note.Verdict: 2.5 stars (the 0.5 for that end page). Rambling nonsense, with an odd spark of genius here and there.

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