ISBN is

978-1-57322-298-3 / 9781573222983

The Portrait

by

Publisher:Riverhead Hardcover

Edition:Hardcover

Language:English

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About the book:

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 novels 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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