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The Portrait | [Iain Pears]

The Portrait

An influential art critic in the early years of the 20th 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.
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Publisher's Summary

An influential art critic in the early years of the 20th 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.

©2005 Iain Pears; (P)2005 Penguin Audio and Books on Tape, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"Pears presents a classic unreliable narrator, although the degree of his unreliability is left tantalizingly ambiguous....For those who prefer the subtlety of a small canvas, where the perfidy of the human heart is revealed in shadow, Pears' portrait is an exquisite little gem." (Booklist)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.3 (47 )
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4.0 (6 )
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  •  
    Cranberry 06-22-06
    Cranberry 06-22-06 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
    85
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    418
    38
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    "Good, but tedious"

    This was interesting, but after a while, the monologue got a bit tedious. Nothing very shocking, but I did like the comparison of the artist painting a portrait of his friend as we get see the portrait of the artist through his narrative that went on and on and on ...

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daniel 09-08-06
    Daniel 09-08-06 Member Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
    45
    ratings
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    35
    12
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    "Quirky"

    An attempt at a tour de force but it doesn't quite come off. He should stick to classic mysteries. It was a relief when it was over.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Die Falknerin 07-28-14 Member Since 2008

    Painter, musician, bibliophile...

    HELPFUL VOTES
    501
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    670
    136
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    "Even Simon Vance couldn't save this one"

    There are four reasons I believe this book is one of the worst I have ever read:

    (1) The artist is the narrator of the book and he is tedious and aggravating. Part of this is because the entire book is a monologue filled with cant and cliche. Many of the trite phrases from the artist are little better than what one might hear during a drunken undergrad revel. Also, the unending opinions about Scotland and the Scottish people are ludicrous.

    (2) Portrait painting is the passion of my life, so when I read a book that is ostensibly about a portrait painter, I expect the author to have done his research. Sadly, Pears does not seem to have any concept of what a working artist does. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but this book demands total suspension of intelligence.

    (3) During all of the ranting and canting, the artist attempts to instill a sense of foreboding. Sadly we see what he's trying to pull from the beginning. There is no sense of suspense, only of failure to interest the reader in what happens next.

    (4) Finally, we are supposed to believe that the sitter for this portrait is patient enough, and apparently stupid enough, to sit and listen to this garbage the whole time. Anyone with the character Pears attempts to give the sitter --- that of a strong-willed and powerful man with great intelligence --- would have walked out early on. But then Pears wouldn't have his captive audience to endure the painful contrivance.

    I've never read anything else by Pears, so I cannot compare it to his popular series. I can only say that with this book as my only introduction to him, I have no reason to believe he would improve on further acquaintance.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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