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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I am confessing my sins...before I have committed them."
In a change of pace from his previous intricately plotted and lengthy novels, Iain Pears here writes a novella-length study of an artist painting a three-part portrait of the most famous art critic in England in the years of 1910 - 1913, a man with whom he has had a significant history over many years. The critic, William Nasmyth, has come to Houat, a small island off the...
Published on 4 Jan. 2006 by Mary Whipple

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rather wearisome
I came to this novel with every determination to love it, having heard good things about the author. However, I'm afraid that the approach of having a complete monologue telling the story just doesn't work, and here is far too long. Don't get me wrong - there is a very interesting story here (though something of a cliche), but it's hidden and very much distanced from the...
Published on 17 Aug. 2005


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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rather wearisome, 17 Aug. 2005
By A Customer
This review is from: The Portrait (Paperback)
I came to this novel with every determination to love it, having heard good things about the author. However, I'm afraid that the approach of having a complete monologue telling the story just doesn't work, and here is far too long. Don't get me wrong - there is a very interesting story here (though something of a cliche), but it's hidden and very much distanced from the reader by the technique used. Sometimes I felt that I came so close to a moment of drama but it slipped away even as I was pursuing it. I think it would also be helpful if at least one of the characters was attractive or charismatic in some way. Unfortunately they're not.
Frankly, it was a relief to get to the end. Please, authors, no more monologue novels - just show us the story directly!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I am confessing my sins...before I have committed them.", 4 Jan. 2006
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Portrait (Hardcover)
In a change of pace from his previous intricately plotted and lengthy novels, Iain Pears here writes a novella-length study of an artist painting a three-part portrait of the most famous art critic in England in the years of 1910 - 1913, a man with whom he has had a significant history over many years. The critic, William Nasmyth, has come to Houat, a small island off the Brittany coast, where the artist, Henry Morris MacAlpine, has been living in exile for several years.
As he paints Nasmyth's portrait during the course of several days, MacAlpine addresses him about their past in London, the state of the art world and its artists during these years of post-impressionism, their mutual friends and lovers, and Nasmyth's role in the success or failure of MacAlpine's artist-friends. Sometimes angry and hostile, sometimes snide, and occasionally sentimental, MacAlpine reveals the sordid details of Nasmyth's life and ego-driven personality, which he intends to use in the portrait, a triptych--his view of Nasmyth as he was, as he is now, and as he will be.
The artist, articulate and observant, feels totally realistic, a person we come to know, not by what he says, but by what he implies and then forces us to conclude. Nasmyth, we see, loves power, the making or breaking of artists. MacAlpine's friend Evelyn and his model Jacky are depicted realistically, and the reader, who comes to know them through MacAlpine's reminiscences about them, empathizes with them for their treatment by Nasmyth. Gradually, the reader becomes aware that MacAlpine intends to make Nasmyth pay for past crimes, and though the reader may figure out generally how the novel will conclude, Pears has saved some surprises. When the novel draws to its close, the reader feels the rightness of the conclusion.
Because the novel is a dramatic monologue, the reader comes to know only the speaker and his point of view. No conversations with other characters exist to show how they interact with each other, and the reader never sees other characters in action. This leads to a novel which "tells about" what happens, instead of recreating it and allowing the reader to share it. The author must build suspense and tension through words, rather than through action scenes, a device which leaves the reader at arm's length. Filled with personal details which reveal the heart and soul of a struggling artist, the novel is a fascinating glimpse of the art world during the age of post-impressionism and of one artist who seeks revenge on a critic. Mary Whipple
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Critical take on Art and Revenge - Perhaps a Little too Clever, 2 Jun. 2009
By 
wolf (East Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Portrait (Paperback)
More a novella than a full novel, the care that has gone into Pears's book shines through. The tale is comparitavely slight: apparently a portraitist's conversation with his sitter, an old friend and critic. As he talks he reveals something of his feelings about the man he is painting and something of his intentions become clear.

Its telling has clearly been worked on, polished and honed. The revelations are artfully constructed, the pace and placing of them neatly designed to give the reader information in a manner that appears natural and plausible.

As others have said, it is told entirely in a monologue: the painter's words. Perhaps it is this device or perhaps the degree of control, of art, used in the construction of the story, that gives the whole a slightly artificial feel. It is hard to wholly accept this as a real conversation. Something jars. The reader begins to wonder about the reality of the situation: the notes at the end point out that one reviewer questioned whether the sitter was ever even there. It was a question that I asked myself too - it doesn't quite work as words said outloud to a real person with real reactions.

A book, then, it is easy to admire, harder to completely enjoy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not one for me - gave up half way through, 24 Jan. 2008
By 
Janie U (Kings Cliffe, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Portrait (Paperback)
This book has an unusual monologue style which I thought might be interesting. I found, however, that I became increasing uncomfortable with the manner of the character and did not like the agressive conversational approach.
I found the book really hard to find any connection with and did not feel that there was anything to be gained from reading it.
Whilst I vaguely wanted to know more about the character and why he did what he did, I didn't want to know enough to keep reading.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Like wading through syrup, 30 April 2008
By 
G. Jackson - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Portrait (Paperback)
I was very dissappointed in this after Scipio and Fingerpost, perhaps because they were so good by comparison this looks worse than it is. The single voice that we hear throughout is a difficult thing to pull off. Very modernist with its style but ultimately unsuccesful. Its not like I don't like a challenging read, just this one tried and didn't pull it off.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I am confessing my sins...before I have committed them.", 1 May 2005
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Portrait (Hardcover)
In a change of pace from his previous intricately plotted and lengthy novels, Iain Pears here writes a novella-length study of an artist painting a three-part portrait of the most famous art critic in England in the years of 1910 - 1913, a man with whom he has had a significant history over many years. The critic, William Nasmyth, has come to Houat, a small island off the Brittany coast, where the artist, Henry Morris MacAlpine, has been living in exile for several years.
As he paints Nasmyth's portrait during the course of several days, MacAlpine addresses him about their past in London, the state of the art world and its artists during these years of post-impressionism, their mutual friends and lovers, and Nasmyth's role in the success or failure of MacAlpine's artist-friends. Sometimes angry and hostile, sometimes snide, and occasionally sentimental, MacAlpine reveals the sordid details of Nasmyth's life and ego-driven personality, which he intends to use in the portrait, a triptych--his view of Nasmyth as he was, as he is now, and as he will be.
The artist, articulate and observant, feels totally realistic, a person we come to know, not by what he says, but by what he implies and then forces us to conclude. Nasmyth, we see, loves power, the making or breaking of artists. MacAlpine's friend Evelyn and his model Jacky are depicted realistically, and the reader, who comes to know them through MacAlpine's reminiscences about them, empathizes with them for their treatment by Nasmyth. Gradually, the reader becomes aware that MacAlpine intends to make Nasmyth pay for past crimes, and though the reader may figure out generally how the novel will conclude, Pears has saved some surprises. When the novel draws to its close, the reader feels the rightness of the conclusion.
Because the novel is a dramatic monologue, the reader comes to know only the speaker and his point of view. No conversations with other characters exist to show how they interact with each other, and the reader never sees other characters in action. This leads to a novel which "tells about" what happens, instead of recreating it and allowing the reader to share it. The author must build suspense and tension through words, rather than through action scenes, a device which leaves the reader at arm's length. Filled with personal details which reveal the heart and soul of a struggling artist, the novel is a fascinating glimpse of the art world during the age of post-impressionism and of one artist who seeks revenge on a critic. Mary Whipple
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4.0 out of 5 stars dark monologue, 19 July 2010
This review is from: The Portrait (Paperback)
I liked this dark novella with it's unusual form. The whole novel is a monologue from an artist to his sitter - but it's much more complicated than that, as you would expect from the writer of An Instance of the Fingerpost and the Dream of Scipio.
Henry McAlpine, a successful artist, has retreated from the world to a bleak Brittany island to paint. William Naysmith, an acclaimed critic, arrives to have his portrait painted. The monologue is one half of their conversation - and we never hear any of the other side, expect through inference. The history between the two men gradually emerges in a quiet, menacing way which I found gripping.
The novel is not as complicated as either An Instance of the Fingerpost and the Dream of Scipio, but still interweaves several narratives cleverly into the monologue.
The ending is excellent and as it should be.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark but keeps you guessing to the last page, 4 April 2007
By 
Mark Meynell "quaesitor" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Portrait (Paperback)
Pears has an incredible mind - he can weave together so many different strands, narratives and perspectives (as he proves brilliantly in An Instance of the Fingerpost and The Dream of Scipio). This time he has a single narrative - it is not even a conversation; merely the one-sided responses/account by an early 1900s Scottish artist painting on his remote and blustery island off northern France, and he talks with his former art-critic-mentor and now sitter. We are gradually let into the secret as he unpacks all the events, words and feelings that have brought them both to this point. I should have seen the signs of where it was going but didn't anticipate the end exactly - but in retrospect it all makes perfect sense. Not Pears at his true best (i preferred the two mentioned above) but certainly up there.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A story involving betrayal, jealousy and spite, 11 July 2007
By 
Wynne Kelly "Kellydoll" (Coventry, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Portrait (Paperback)
I loved The Dream of Scipio and An Instance of the Fingerpost so I was looking forward to this book. It is a pretty easy read although he has chosen to use a narrator (the artist, Henry MacAlpine) speaking as a monologue to his subject (art critic, William Naysmith) Not an easy way to tell a story involving betrayal, jealousy and spite - but he copes with this pretty well. He built up the picture of the windswept Breton island and of life in the artistic community at the end of the 18th and beginning of 19th centuries. The ending is a bit predictable, but nonetheless satisfying, as there were a few surprises along the way.

Would make a good radio play - or would be good to have as an audio book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Art of Relating, 1 Oct. 2014
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This review is from: The Portrait (Kindle Edition)
A very original way to tell a story. The story itself is excellent but read it ... the way it is told is brilliant.
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The Portrait
The Portrait by Iain Pears (Paperback - 7 Aug. 2006)
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