Headlong by Michael Frayn


What an odd mix of farce and academic exposition about Bruegel is this book.  How he conceived of a book with both a car chase and a consideration of the iconography and, get this, iconology, of Bruegel is a mystery to me.  

A philosopher on sabbatical, his art historian wife, and new baby go out to the countryside outside London where Martin gets a look at a painting in his neighbor's house.  Martin in the instant he saw it, concludes it is a Bruegel that is not missing, but unknown.  The wonderful part of this book is Frayn's recounting of Martin's effort to determine if a painting like this one exists which involves what art historians have said, as well as a captivating history of the Netherlands of the period.  We learn much from Martin's narration of his reading, the wrong trees he barked up, his many trips to London. At the same moment he concluded the painting was a Bruegel, he knew he must wrest it from the undeserving Tony Churt and this is the source of the farce. The narration of both the art history and the farce are masterful and I was happy to be pulled along although the farce part was such a stretch it made me nervous.

I loved both his "Noises Off," a hilarious play with many slammed doors and "Copenhagen" which to my wonder, mesmerized me with a discussion between the physicists Heisenberg and Bohr.  Now think about mixing these two plays, and you have the idea of Headlong.

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