The Portrait, Paperback
3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


A dark and disturbing novel of suspense, 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 feted 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 Naysmith 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 Nasmith's true character on canvas, a story unfolds - one of betrayal, hypocrisy, forbidden love, suicide and ultimately murder. 'The Portrait' is a darkly atmospheric, psychologically complex, macabre and chilling novel from a master storyteller.




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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

I was initially sceptical of the monologue structure, but once the story got going I soon accepted it, even if it always seemed a little artificial. The finale is quite predictable, but I was still interested in the plot right through the book and the evocation of the period and atmosphere is superb. In the end, I was glad the book wasn't any longer, the monologue device is just a little too tiring.

Review by

I've tried to read this book a couple of times before, but stopped reading when I realised that this was a book that I need to read in one sitting, so I've used this Good Friday well by finally reading the book. It's an interesting idea, a story told in the first person during a series of sittings for a painting. The artist, Henry MacAlpine, and his subject, William Naysmith, are old friends who lost touch when MacAlpine left London for Houat several years previously. The relationship between the friends is complex, especially when we realise that Naysmith is an art critic. But, as with any long-standing friendship, that is not all and as the sittings progress MacAlpine relates a story made up of a series of betrayals set against the background of bohemian fin de siècle Paris and London, and finally revenge.There are some difficulties with the story, neither of the main protagonists is likeable, they are ambitious and self-centred, seemingly unable to see the world from anyone else's perspective. This limits the life in the story as the best first person narrators, unreliable as they are, are usually at least able to imagine how other characters may feel. But Henry is so self-absorbed none of the other characters in the book, even those who turn out to be key players in the story, can ever be anything but two-dimensional characters fluttering around MacAlpine and Naysmith.

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