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The Underpainter [Hardcover]

Jane Urquhart
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars haunting April 5 2002
One way I measure a book is by how much it makes me think - and for how long after I've finished it. I first read this book two years ago, and still it haunts me. The characters are not especially sympathetic - least of all the artist - but what is disturbing is how well they are drawn from real life. The author has as remarkable an eye for character and human nature as a fine painter for his or her subject. I've recommended this book to many, but only to those who can appreciate a story of quiet depth. It's also a story that demands rereading.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By "zeke8"
I found Jane Urquhart's novel to be quite compelling and well-written. Being an artist myself, I was eager to read a novel whose main character was an artist. The author captured the way in which art (any art) training is abjectly consuming at the expense of individual development. Artists and musicians tend toward the egocentric . . . partly because of the intensity of their training. Austin certainly fell into that category.
I was also pleased that Ms. Urquhart was able to depict with sensitivity the effects of trauma on the human psyche. She was not only sensitive but very graphic if one was able to travel with her during the story's telling. It is rare to find such idiosycratic topics dealt with in the context of a novel much less to find them dealt with really well.
The most compelling thing about the novel, however, is the warmth and compassion that she develops and portrays in her characters. In spite of their very human frailties, they are lovable if not always likeable.
I look forward to reading other Jane Urquhart works!
An artist/musician/reader
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5.0 out of 5 stars absolutely astounding Sept. 19 1999
By A Customer
an amazing novel. the narrator- Austin Fraser is cruel, vain, afraid, human. this novel depicts his story- the story of a man who was afraid of his own self. the story of the underpainter. the artist who flooded the underpaiting in his art with his own life, his melancholy, his passions, his all, then blurring it out. the plot takes erratic jumps all over a half century, yet most of the story takes place during the '20s and '30s. this book tells the story of Austin's life. it tells how many of the special, tender relationships in his life ended, either gradually, or abruptly. it tells of this man's struggles, his passions, his failures. it tells of how he ran away from happiness in the face of his own fear and vanity. the plot is filled to overflow with his life, and the lives of those who came to know him, those who's lives intertwined with his own, or not at all. those who's lives Austin kept carefully stored away in his photographic memory. all throughout the book he tells of how well he remembers it all, how picturesquely it is all stored in this now old man's mind, so well he could paint it. relationships spanned over decades, people whom he's pushed away, people who died far away, yet right before his eyes. ghosts of the past, his own and others'. this is the story of Austin Fraser.
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3.0 out of 5 stars is this what we've become? Oct. 21 1998
By A Customer
I had the uncanny feeling that Austin Fraser is us in the west - modern western man (woman / person?) - shallow (underpainted), no commitments, no sense of personal responsibility, no guilt, no sense of sin, no remorse, no conscience, no moral fabric, no deep feeling, no real character - all freedom, all surface, to be defined and re-defined (overpainted) as required, like television images. The only time Fraser appears to come alive occurs when he is confronted by Rockwell Kent (the real and valid life force?), who tells him the truth about himself (God forbid that modern man (woman / person?) should be told straight to his (her) face what's really going on!- it could be litigious). And what does he do? He utterly rejects Kent - rejects any sort of being beyond the shallow, clinical, technical entity that he is, and documents (documents, not writes) the act. There does not appear to be a trace of real deep awareness. Except that he is threatened enough by the Sara's, Rockwell's, Augusta's, and George's to lock himself away in his essentially empty and lifeless house in Rochester. Fraser is a well-rendered and very sad comment on what we seem to have become - two-dimensional television screen images. all surface and no substance. The only thing that bothered me about this book is something I can't really put my finger on, since I am no literary expert. I had the feeling that it read like most other novels I've read in the past few years about Ontario and / or by Ontario writers (?).
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1.0 out of 5 stars Do not waste your time (or money) Jan. 22 2001
This book, in spite of the fact that it received the Governor General's Award for Fiction in 1997, is a complete waste of time. The talk about painting and art is incessant. The character development is minimal in spite of the books length. The last thirty pages of the story are moderately OK and, coupled with some of the earlier parts, PERHAPS would have made a decent short story. Quite frankly, the Governor General needs to read more if this is the best he (now she) can do.
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