Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Review - The Portrait by Iain Pears


Iain Pears’ novel The Portrait intrigued me from the word go the first time I read it years ago: an artist in self-imposed exile invites his friend, who was once a major art critic, to his home in order to paint his portrait. The novel is set up as a monologue as the artist spends his time reminiscing about their lives in the past and how and why he is now in exile. What later unfolds is a story about love lost and destroyed, dreams crushed and thrown away and sweet and pure revenge. Although this is a short novel in pages, the story is dense and not one to take lightly. When I first read this work years ago, I loved it. However, when I returned to the same piece years later, I found myself wanting it to simply end. Perhaps it is because I am now an author myself; the story could have easily been a short story with just enough “punch” to deliver the cruel message to not only the readers but to the doomed art critic as well. There was also one two-line paragraph on page 95 in which the art critic actually speaks then it returns to the artist and his monologue. In all honesty, I did not realize that had occurred until I read someone else’s review of the book.
When I completed the book, I found myself not caring about either of the characters; there was no emotion for either of them and when that does occur for me, it usually means that I did not enjoy the book. Will this book appeal to those who love art history? Yes. Will this book appeal to those who pine of the days when creative people truly lived the life of bohemians? Yes. As one who does enjoy reading art history and bohemian life, I did enjoy the book for those merits, yet as stated before, this was a short story that was stretched and weighed down with too much pensive thinking to make the story truly stick. In my opinion, this is nothing more than another version of Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, and a lesser one at that. Yet, as strange as this sounds, reading the novel a second time did make me realize that Pears can write and it intrigued me long enough to at least finish the book. Sometimes, while the plot may be contrived, the writing is strong enough to stand on its own. For me, The Portrait does just that.

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