A dark and disturbing novel of suspense brought to vivid life in this CD audiobook. This is a tale set at the turn of the 20th century, by the bestselling author of An Instance of the Fingerpost.
The windswept isle of Houat, off the coast of Brittany, is no picturesque artists' colony. At the turn of the twentieth century, life is harsh and rustic. So why did Henry MacAlpine forsake London – where he had been fêted by critics and gallery owners, his works exhibited alongside the likes of Cezanne and Van Gogh – to make his home in this remote outpost?
The truth begins to emerge when, four years into his exile, MacAlpine receives his first visitor. Influential art critic William Nasmyth has come to the island to sit for a portrait. Over the course of the sitting, the power balance between the two men shifts dramatically as the critic whose pen could anoint or destroy careers becomes a passive subject. And as the painter struggles to capture Nasmyth's true character on canvas, a story unfolds – one of betrayal, hypocrisy, forbidden love, suicide and ultimately murder.
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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 novelís punning strapline, Ďvengeance is an artí, refers to the art theme that is Pearsí 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 Pearsí 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 ForshawReview:
Praise for An Instance of the Fingerpost:
‘This is a novel that combines the simple pleasures of Agatha Christie with the intellectual subtlety of Umberto Eco. It is a landmark in the genre’ John Sutherland, Sunday Times
‘Enthralling… An Instance of the Fingerpost is a brilliant achievement… wholly absorbing’ T.J. Binyon, Evening Standard
‘A slippery thriller of audacious ingenuity’ Robert Minghall, Independent on Sunday
Praise for The Dream of Scipio:
‘Combining the visceral pleasures of a thriller with the more intellectual excitements of a novel of ideas… ‘ Sunday Telegraph
‘Combines dazzling erudition with assured narrative skills to offer glimpses of some of history’s darkest corners’ Independent on Sunday
‘Vivid, admirably imagined, ultimately very moving… This is a novel of the very highest ambition… Immediate, sensuous, beautiful’ Allan Massie, Scotsman
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