Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Man in the Picture [Review]

Title: The Man in the Picture

Author: Susan Hill

Copyright: 2007 (Published in the U.S., 2008, Overlook Press, Woodstock, NY; ISBN: 978-1-59020-091-9)

Genre: Gothic

Length: 145 pages

Summary: A modern scholar of medieval literature visits his old tutor at Cambridge University, the Chaucerian scholar Theo Parmitter. Seated before a fire, with the lamplight low, in Parmitter's college rooms, Oliver is told the tale behind a painting that has been in Parmitter's rooms for some time. The painting shows a scene of revelers at a Carnivale Masque by the Grand Canal in Venice. It is the history of the painting that forms a tale within a tale, deliciously macabre and eliciting a delicate shiver. There are elements of frustrated love and unending imprisonment in this very short, highly enjoyable literary ghost story.

Extract: 'I do not know what I expected to find,' he said, after sipping his whiskey. 'I had no preconceived ideas of the place called Hawdon or of this Countess. If I had...You think mine is a strange story, Oliver. But my story is nothing, it is merely a prelude to the story told me by an extraordinary old woman.'

Also relevant: This was a quick read as I got through it in less than a week of commuting to and from my office. You may remember that I had a tremendous liking for Hill's other work, The Woman in Black, which is similarly gothic in tone. The Man In The Picture offers masks, crowds, cold hatred and shadows, prisoners being taken into custody and a delightful sense of unease. You still have a week before Halloween. This one is worth ordering from Amazon now so as to have it in hand, to read as you wait by the front door for mysterious figures seeking treats on the 31st. Excellently done.