Friday, December 17, 2010
Bruegel and Stark and Frayn and Westlake
The name of the island is Cockaigne. Karns, the head of the Outfit and the man commissioning the job, gives us the background on the name:
‘One of my lawyers told me what it is,’ Karns said. ‘There was an old legend in the old days in England about a country called Cockaigne where everything was great. Streets made of sugar, doughnuts growing on the trees and like that. Like the song about the big rock candy mountain. Idleness and luxury, that was Cockaigne, and that was what this bird Baron called his gambling island.’
And this rang a bell with me. Just as Stark used the story of the Missing Mourners of Dijon in The Mourner, I wondered if he got the idea for The Handle from the world of fine arts - because there's a painting of it by one of my favorite artists, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, called "The Land of Cockaigne."
In Tuesday's New York Times, I read about the discovery of a new painting by Bruegel and this reminded me that I never finished this post. An old painting has been found to be from the master himself and not one of his sons. Michael Kimmelmen has a nice write up about it called When Overlooked Art Turns Celebrity.
Here's the painting:
Bruegel the Elder is one of my favorite artists and my interested in him originated in reading Michael Frayn's great comic novel Headlong, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1999. In it a man notices a painting hanging in a decaying country house that he suspects is a lost painting by Bruegel. He schemes to get it and things end badly. Imagine one of Westlake's Dortmunder novels written in a way Docx would approve and you have Headlong. This book is a real work of art and one of my favorite novels ever.