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The Portrait by Iain Pears
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The Portrait (original 2004; edition 2005)

by Iain Pears

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5772417,144 (3.35)52
Member:iansales
Title:The Portrait
Authors:Iain Pears
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Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***
Tags:novel, historical, reprint, paperback, given away

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The Portrait by Iain Pears (2004)

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» See also 52 mentions

English (21)  French (2)  German (1)  All languages (24)
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)

A few months ago I read and adored Pears's big fat science-historical mystery-type novel An Instance of the Fingerpost and adored it so much I went out and bought a better copy than the somewhat battered one I had so that Pam could read the book the way it ought to be read -- and, now I face it, so that I could have a nicer copy if ever I re-read the book myself, which is not beyond the bounds of possibility. Whatever, when I spotted The Portrait in the library the other day, there was no question but that it go home with me.

It's a very much slighter book in every sense of the word -- indeed, it's more like a very, very long novella than a novel, all narrated as he paints by early-20th-century portraitist Henry MacAlpine to his subject, critic and heartless bastard William Nasmyth. Slowly, as the past history of the two men -- and more importantly of the undervalued (because female) painter Evelyn -- unfolds, we discover why MacAlpine has lured Nasmyth to this remote island off Brittany for the portrait, and what he hopes to achieve with that portrait.

I'm not sure Pears quite pulls off the endeavour. At the end of the book I felt thoroughly satisfied by the last fifty pages I'd read, but the buildup to those last fifty pages had far too often seemed to drag. Had this been published as an ordinary-length novella -- say, 25-35,000 words -- rather than an (at a guess) 55,000-word shortish novel, I think it would have been artistically more successful. As it was, I had the sensation I was looking at one of a master's interesting but decidedly lesser paintings. ( )
  JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
This novel is set up as a monologue by a Scottish painter who's retreated in France and gets a visit from his friend and art-critic in order to get his portrait painted. Little by little, we get to know what the relationship between the two and the circle of friends involved, what happened earlier on and why the painter moved, It all leads up to a climax which is totally in line with the set-up but takes you by surprise anyway.
I thought this was an extraordinary, very thoughtful book with important insights into the human psychology. It must be a pretty difficult thing to portray characters the way Pears does by merely using a monologue from a character who's very much involved, but I think he did a brilliant job. Highly recommended to non-superficial readers. ( )
  JustJoey4 | Jun 13, 2012 |
I've tried to read this book a couple of times before, but stopped reading when I realised that this was a book that I need to read in one sitting, so I've used this Good Friday well by finally reading the book.

It's an interesting idea, a story told in the first person during a series of sittings for a painting. The artist, Henry MacAlpine, and his subject, William Naysmith, are old friends who lost touch when MacAlpine left London for Houat several years previously. The relationship between the friends is complex, especially when we realise that Naysmith is an art critic. But, as with any long-standing friendship, that is not all and as the sittings progress MacAlpine relates a story made up of a series of betrayals set against the background of bohemian fin de siècle Paris and London, and finally revenge.

There are some difficulties with the story, neither of the main protagonists is likeable, they are ambitious and self-centred, seemingly unable to see the world from anyone else's perspective. This limits the life in the story as the best first person narrators, unreliable as they are, are usually at least able to imagine how other characters may feel. But Henry is so self-absorbed none of the other characters in the book, even those who turn out to be key players in the story, can ever be anything but two-dimensional characters fluttering around MacAlpine and Naysmith. ( )
1 vote riverwillow | Apr 6, 2012 |
Let me introduce you to Henry McAlpine, a self-imposed exile from England, who currently resides on an island of the coast of France in the early 1920s. In this unusually constructed novel, the entire book is a monologue by Henry, as he paints the portrait of a former friend, an English art critic. Sounds innocuous enough, but the plot thickens as both the protrait and the story progress. What follows is a harsh examination of the art world, notoriety v. fame, the manipulations of art critics in general and of Henry's friend in particular, and the disastrous outcome of the critic's choices. A dark, yet enlightening story. Very good read! ( )
  hemlokgang | Dec 24, 2011 |
I was a bit disappointed with this book. It is beautifully written, but the plot is meagre and the characters too simple to my liking. ( )
  mojacobs | May 9, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
Features of the paperback presentation of this wonderful, grimly entertaining novel are fold-out endpapers like a miniature gallery, showing paintings by artists as diverse as Velázquez, Géricault and Whistler. They give promise of the high aesthetic tone which the novel duly fulfils.
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159448175X, Paperback)

An art critic journeys to a remote island off Brittany to sit for a portrait painted by an old friend, a gifted but tormented artist living in self-imposed exile. The painter recalls their years of friendship, the gift of the critic's patronage, and his callous betrayals. As he struggles to capture the character of the man, as well as his image, on canvas, it becomes clear that there is much more than a portrait at stake...

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:43 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"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."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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