Title: The Portrait
Publisher: Riverhead Books, New York, New York, U.S.A.
Publication Date: 2005
Binding: Hard Cover
Book Condition: Fine
Dust Jacket Condition: Fine
Edition: First American Edition.
Fine/Fine unread copy protected by Archival Brodart Cover. Size: 12mo - over 6¾" - 7¾" tall. Bookseller Inventory # 001271
A dark and disturbing novel brought vividly to life in this audiobook. This is a story of suspense, set at the turn of the 20th century, by the bestselling author of An Instance of the Fingerpost.
In the early years of the twentieth century, influential art critic William Nasmyth travels to a remote island off the coast of Brittany to sit for a portrait painted by his old friend, the gifted but tormented artist Henry MacAlpine. Over the course of the sitting, MacAlpine recalls their years of friendship, the double-edged gift of the critic's patronage, the power he wielded over aspiring artists, and his apparent callousness in anointing the careers of some and devastating the lives of others.
The power balance between the two shifts dramatically from what it had been, with the critic now the passive subject while the painter struggles to capture the character of the man, as well as his image on canvas... And as the painting develops, so a story begins to emerge ? one of betrayal, hypocrisy, forbidden love, suicide and ultimately murder. Reminiscing with ease and familiarity one minute, anger and menace the next, MacAlpine eventually reveals why he has accepted the commission of this portrait, why he left London mysteriously at the height of his success, and why, now, with dark determination, he feels ready to return...
Set against the dramatic, untamed landscape of Brittany, during one of the most explosive periods in art history,The Portrait is a darkly atmospheric, psychologically complex, macabre and chilling novel from a master storyteller.
Review: Iain Pears deals in a very sophisticated form of dark narrative; his elegantly written novels (of which The Portrait is a very persuasive example) now have a keen following. This book has the same impeccable storytelling and quietly malignant tone as the one that made his reputation, An Instance of the Fingerpost. The new novel?s punning strapline, ?vengeance is an art?, refers to the art theme that is Pears? métier. In his books, civilised people perform very uncivilised actions, with the world of art a microcosm for the darker reaches of the human soul.
Set on the bleak and windy island of Houat near the coast of Brittany, The Portrait describes the retreat into isolation of the painter Henry MacAlpine, who has performed a Gauguin-like cutting off of his previous life, leaving a successful career in London (not to mention rich patrons and enthusiastic gallery owners) behind him for a more spartan existence in this unvisited spot. Several years pass, and the reclusive MacAlpine is called upon by the first person he has seen from his old life in four years. This is the art critic William Nasmyth, whose approbation (or otherwise) can make or destroy an artist's career. He has come, he says, to sit for a portrait. What follows is a remarkable battle of wills between two very driven individuals; a psychological duel that has echoes of the mordant writing in the early plays of Harold Pinter. The other analogy that springs to mind for Pears? compelling and disturbing novel is the Ingmar Bergman film Persona, similarly set on a remote island, which also treats of a personality shift between two strong-willed individuals. During the course of the sitting, the real subject of the novel becomes clear through the conversation of the two men: this is a scarifying narrative of thwarted desire, cruelty, suicide and even murder. This spare and economical novel exerts a grip from the first paragraph, and its two main protagonists are drawn with assiduously observed detail. --Barry Forshaw
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