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The Portraitby Iain Pears
Synopses & Reviews
An influential art critic in the early years of the twentieth century journeys from London to the rustic, remote island of Houat, off France's northwest coast, to sit for a portrait painted by an old friend, a gifted but tormented artist living in self-imposed exile. Over the course of the sitting, the painter 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 balance of power between the two men shifts dramatically as the critic becomes a passive subject, while the painter struggles to capture the character of the man, as well as his image, on canvas.
Reminiscing with ease and familiarity one minute, with anger and menace the next, the painter eventually reveals why he has accepted the commission of this portrait, why he left London suddenly and 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 rich with atmosphere and suggestion, psychological complexity, and marvelous detail. It is a novel you will want to begin again immediately after turning the last chilling page, to read once more with a watchful eye and appreciate the hand of an ingenious storyteller at work.
"Justly praised for his complex historical thrillers (An Instance of the Fingerpost; The Dream of Scipio), Pears scales down to a simple tale of vengeance told by a narrator obsessed with destroying the man he once called his friend and mentor. Henry MacAlpine has abandoned his comfortable life as a celebrated portraitist in early 1900s London and fled to a tiny island off the coast of Brittany. To that lonely spot he lures William Naysmith, the British art world's most famous critic, with the promise of painting his portrait. In the course of the narrative, MacAlpine recalls the development of his artistic talent with the advice and praise of the ambitious Naysmith. The suspense lies in the gradual revelation of Naysmith's ruthless use of power, yet the double crime for which MacAlpine holds him accountable comes as little surprise. While this novel never approaches the sly cleverness and tingling suspense of John Lanchester's A Debt to Pleasure, which it otherwise resembles, readers will enjoy some period ironies, as when MacAlpine expresses contempt for the upstart French Impressionists, while the contemptible Naysmith discerns their true genius. Anybody in the business of criticism, whether it be artistic or literary, will be chastened by Pears's indictment of a critic's power to make or ruin reputations. Agent, Felicity Bryan. Forecast: The relative lack of plot may disappoint Pears's readership, but the subject matter will likely make the book popular fodder for reviewers. " Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Though Pears's epigrams are not in the same league with Oscar Wilde's, his grasp of melodrama...is sharp as ever, as he finally indicates in disclosing Henry's motive and master plan. A short story's worth of incident floated on a prickly cushion of aphorism." Kirkus Reviews
"Pears accomplishes the near-impossible; he turns unstoppable monolog, potentially a one-note bore, into a true tour de force....Pears steps away from [the mystery] genre altogether to produce an extraordinary work. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"Don't expect this to appeal to the wide audience that made Fingerpost a best-seller, but for those who prefer the subtlety of a small canvas...Pears' 'portrait' is an exquisite little gem." Booklist (Starred Review)
Set against the dramatic, untamed landscape of Brittany during one of the most explosive periods in art history, The Portrait is rich with atmosphere and suggestion, psychological complexity, and marvelous detail.
About the Author
Iain Pears is the author of the New York Times bestseller An Instance of the Fingerpost and the national bestseller The Dream of Scipio, as well as a series of acclaimed detective novels, a book of art history, and countless articles on artistic, financial, and historical subjects.
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