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The Portrait

Narrated by: Simon Vance
Length: 5 hrs and 19 mins
3.5 out of 5 stars (57 ratings)

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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.

Critic Reviews

"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 Ratings

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

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 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

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.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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Give this one a chance

What did you love best about The Portrait?

It steadily improved and ended unexpectedly.

Did the plot keep you on the edge of your seat? How?

Not at first. In fact, I intially intended to return it but accidentally left it playing while I was cooking and noticed it was pulling me in with the story.

Which character – as performed by Simon Vance – was your favorite?

The painter, of course.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Not-so-quiet lives.