How to Paint a Dead Man, Paperback Book

How to Paint a Dead Man Paperback

3 out of 5 (4 ratings)


Italy in the early 1960s: a dying painter considers the sacrifices and losses that have made him an enigma, both to strangers and those closest to him.

He begins his last life painting, using the same objects he has painted obsessively for his entire career - a small group of bottles.

In Cumbria 30 years later, a landscape artist - and admirer of the Italian recluse - finds himself trapped in the extreme terrain that has made him famous. And in present-day London, his daughter, an art curator struggling with the sudden loss of her twin brother while trying to curate an exhibition about the lives of the twentieth-century European masters, is drawn into a world of darkness and sexual abandon.

Covering half a century, this is a luminous and searching novel, and Hall's most accomplished work to date.


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Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.

Review by

Yawn, frankly. I've read all of Sarah Hall's books, and each time I pick one up I'm seduced by her abilities with language, only to realise she has nothing to say. This book has some fine writing about Cumbria, as does The Carhullan Army, but otherwise nothing going for it. She enjoys using the word "scrotum" to gesture to her attempt to inhabit a male sensibility but that's as deep as it goes. Pastiche John Berger, frankly, and Berger at his "all women are just reflections of men's pain" worst. I can totally see why this has been longlisted for the Booker: it has Literary Fiction smeared all over it, while being totally conventional in its sensibilities and narrative structure: it's yet another book where all the women can do is talk about men (who rape/impregnate/ignore/die on them). Punitively dull.

Review by

This book consists of four intertwined stories, involving a dying and famous Italian landscape artist, a young girl who has recently become blind and was tutored by the artist, a famous artist from Cumbria who was influenced by the Italian artist, and his daughter, whose twin brother recently died in a tragic accident. Each story comprised a separate chapter, and the writing was wonderful. Each story became more intriguing and nail biting, and the structure of the book created a lot of tension, as I found myself wondering what was going to happen to the blind girl while I was reading about the Cumbrian artist's mishap, and how he was going to extricate itself from it. To say too much more at this point would be a bit of a spoiler. I will say that I loved the ride with Sarah Hall, but I'm not yet sure where we went.

Review by

Hmm. I think this is more artifact than art, an exercise in technique rather than a coherent narrative. But yet it works on many levels. Each of the 4 intertwined stories is engrossing in itself and how the lives of these characters are connected becomes clear chapter by chapter. Giorgio the famous reclusive and grumpy artist. Peter the somewhat famous Cumbrian landscape artist and major pain in the neck . Susan his daughter suffering from the loss of her symbiotic twin. Annette - the most sympathetic character for me - the blind flower seller in an Italian village. Each character is well formed and interesting and the time and place beautifully evokedButIt doesn't go anywhere. Nothing is resolved, no tensions released, nothing. Its as thought the publisher's deadline arrives and the author just ends it. Leaving me to think this might have been better as 4 (or perhaps 2) short stories. So a bit like haute cuisine food. Beautifully presented, interesting to investigate, but fundamentally unsatisfying.

Review by

Hall is bold and brave in her storytelling. It seems nothing is off-limits. Some moments might make you squirm in your seat with as raw emotions, feelings and actions are explored and acted upon.

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