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Portrait by Iain Pears


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Sarah Broadhurst's view...

Coming straight into paperback only, a beautifully produced book with flaps and coloured pictures of some of the paintings brushed over in this extraordinary monologue. Powerful, erudite, menacing, dark, disturbing and strangely gripping, this is a short (224 pages), atmospheric, psychological mystery. Set in the early 20th century, a once feted artist, self-exiled, paints the portrait of his old mentor, a renowned critic and so their lives unfold with startling revelations. I was totally enthralled throughout. It is extraordinarily good.

Comparison: Sarah Waters, Ian McEwan, A S Byatt.
Similar this month: None, but try Gerard Woodward or Tash Aw.

If you like Iain Pears you might also like to read books by A S Byatt, Ian McEwan and Daniel Kehlmann.

Who is Sarah Broadhurst


Portrait by Iain Pears

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 fêted 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 Nasmyth 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 Nasmyth'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.


`A wonderful, grimly entertaining novel.
Sunday Telegraph

`A revenge fantasy to relish.
Independent on Sunday

`Genuinely creepy.
The Times

`A tense tale of revenge, where the creative bites the critical back.

`An exquisite miniature that explores the roles of artist and critic with wit and gore.
Evening Standard

`This is an atmospheric tour de force of historical writing, as it is of narrative skill.

`Illicit love, betrayal and murder darken the pages of this atmospheric disquisition on the art world.
Daily Mail

`Taut, disturbing...full of interesting observations about the late nineteenth - and early twentieth-century art world ...Mesmerising.

About the Author

Iain Pears

Iain Pears was born in 1955, educated at Wadham College, Oxford and won the Getty Scholarship to Yale University. He has worked as a journalist, an art historian and a television consultant. He is the author of many books, including the bestselling An Instance of the Fingerpost and The Dream Of Scipio.

He lives with his wife and son in Oxford.

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Book Info

Publication date

7th August 2006


Iain Pears

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Harpercollins Publishers


Paperback (b Format)
224 pages


Literary Fiction
Historical Fiction
eBook Favourites

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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