From Publishers Weekly
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 toPleasure
, 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.
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Who would have thought a 200-page monologue about art could be so fascinating? Yet Pears has pulled it off with panache. A little less sprawling and complicated than Pearss acclaimed An Instance of the Fingerpost
and The Dream of Scipio
(HHH Nov/Dec 2002), and yet richer and more satisfying than his Jonathan Argyll mystery series, The Portrait
is just thata portrait of a single episode, a single monologue. Though most reviewers bent over backwards not to reveal the "surprise" ending, the finale will not really come as a great shock. Still, Pears is no less learned, skilled, crafty, or acclaimed than the two men who sit at the center of this novel, and readers will relish a few hours in Pearss capable hands.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.