“The Portrait” by Iain Pears

The Portrait

This short novel is so different from the author’s The Dream of Scipio that I wouldn’t have guessed who wrote it. The Portrait is short, very tightly bounded by time and space, and highly atmospheric. There are just two characters, an artist and an art critic. Their mutual acquaintances (living and deceased) are frequently discussed.

We learn that the artist intends to paint a total of three portraits of his critic friend. One was completed years previous. On a remote island off northern France, where the artist lives in chosen exile, the second portrait is being executed. But what about the third portrait?

There are hints, but the conclusion of the book took me by surprise.


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