Headlong by Michael Frayn

About the book

When a local down-on-his-luck landowner asks Martin Clay, a young would-be art historian, to value some paintings, Clay suddenly sees the chance of a lifetime: the opportunity to perform a great public service, and at the same time to make his professional reputation – perhaps even rather a lot of money as well. Believing one of the paintings to be a missing masterpiece he hatches a plot to bring the picture into his own possession. As Clay stumbles headlong into the moral and intellectual labyrinth of his own devious plan, things start to go badly out of control . .

Reviewed by  Inner Wheel Club Winchester Reading Group:

Mostly we loved the start to the book, found characters engaging and interesting, but thought main body of the book repetitive and stuffed with far too much detail of research which was really visual and would make fantastic TV film where you could see detail of pictures. Unusually some members did not finish the book.

Star rating: **

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7 thoughts on “Headlong by Michael Frayn”

  1. Review by King’s Somborne Reading Group:
    A very divisive book. Many found the research irritating and irrelevant to the plot, although those who had some historical knowledge appreciated it. The art history would have been interesting in its own right, outside this surprisingly weak novel by a previously enjoyed humour. Many felt that the main plot was Implausible and negligible with unrealistic and barely likeable characters. Some good humour and descriptive scenes.
    Star rating: **


  2. Review by Anton U3A Bookies Reading Group:
    This was a book with two well integrated themes. One was research into Breugel and the other was pure fiction. Some found the art was too detailed and slowed up the plot. Main characters complex but mainly despicable but plausible. Not to be taken too seriously we felt, sometimes funny.
    Star rating: ***


  3. Review by Entre Nous Reading Group:
    Those interested in art history thoroughly enjoyed this story about a would-be art historian who thinks he’s discovered a lost Bruegel. Frayn goes into tremendous detail debating the iconography of Bruegel’s paintings and although this is clever and fascinating, it could be said to hinder the flow of the narrative. Some felt Frayn was a better playwright than novelist.
    Star rating: ***


  4. Review by Friends of Farnborough Reading Group:
    This book received mixed rating. In our group of twelve, five gave it 1 star, three gave it three stars, four gave it around two stars. We thought it was well written and we’re glad we finished it!
    Star rating: as above


  5. Review by Boater’s Book Club:
    We liked the info on Brugel but thought the book went on too much about painting. Some parts were funny but also too unrealistic. Martin was not liked but his characterisation was considered good.
    Star rating: * to **


  6. Review by Queen Mary’s College Library Reading Group:
    Mixed feelings about this one but most people enjoyed it. None of the characters was sympathetic, with a particular dislike felt for Martin the central character. Large chunks of art history about Breugel a bit hard to get through and we discussed whether it was all real or spoof stuff made up by Frayn. The intrigue in Breugel’s life mirrors the conspiracies and intrigues going on in the main narrative which dashes along at a cracking pace towards a frenetic climax, satirising the world of art history, academia, and the art market. Enjoyable and recommended by most of us.


  7. Review by Novel Ideas
    Barely Okay. Would not recommend. Way too much info about the history of art and general info. It made people want to see the actual painting.
    Star rating **


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