- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Faber & Faber (July 28 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 057122489X
- ISBN-13: 978-0571224890
- Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 2.3 x 21.5 cm
- Shipping Weight: 358 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,532,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
How To Paint A Dead Man Paperback – Jul 28 2009
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"In this gorgeous still life of a book, Sarah Hall gives us four lives...each narrated in a different voice...Hall has a poet's gift, and this novel is best enjoyed as a prose poem whose blindingly beautiful insights gradually accrue...She has made visible to us...the ever-present shadow of eternity."--Washington Post Book World --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Back Cover
The lives of four individuals—a dying painter, a blind girl, a landscape artist, and an art curator—intertwine across nearly five decades in this luminous and searching novel of extraordinary power. With How to Paint a Dead Man, Sarah Hall, "one of the most significant and exciting of Britain's young novelists" (The Guardian), delivers "a maddeningly enticing read . . . an amazing feat of literary engineering" (The Independent on Sunday).--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. See all Product description
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
This is a book about art and artists, about life and grief. It is about "how we investigate our existence and make meaning and teach one another in small and large ways". The book is like a chorale woven of four parts, each part about a different artist. The composition of the book is much like a chorale in music with each artist playing a different role in the book.
There is Suzi, a curator and photographer, who is so lost in her grief for her dead twin and mentor, Danny, that she has lost herself. No matter what extremes she goes to in order to feel alive, her grief is pervasive and overriding. In fact, the emotion is so strong that she denies it is grief. "You're not sure what's wrong exactly; it's hard to put your finger on, hard to articulate. It isn't grief. Grief would be simple. Something internal, something integral, has shifted. You feel lost from yourself. No. Absent. You feel absent. It's like looking into a mirror and seeing no familiar reflection, no one you recognize hosted within the glass." Hall's descriptions of grief are the most profound and poignant I have ever read. The poignancy is reflected in the demise of the human spirit as it searches to be reborn.
Annette is a blind Italian florist, caught up in the visions in her head. Despite her mother's attempts to keep her childlike, she blooms , much like the flowers she loves. She sees beauty in others, senses colors, and is empathic. She imagines the world in all its sensory glory and has been deeply influenced by Giorgio, the artist who taught in her school when she was a child. Years after his death, she still brings flowers to his grave.
Giorgio is an elderly Italian artist of some renown. His character is based on that of the actual artist, Giorgio Morandi, known for his exquisitely shaded paintings of bottles. Giorgio lives a reclusive life but is influential in mentoring a young landscape artist named Peter.
Peter's landscape art takes him to the brink of danger, and the very landscape that he loves and is the source of his inspiration, becomes a threat to his life. He is Suzi and Danny's father and has been Suzi's mentor. He himself, an over-the-top, expressive human being has been mentored distantly by Giorgio who is one of the most disciplined of artists.
This is a book about art and artists. It examines the discipline of art - - its freedom and passion along with the sense of release that art provides. It also explores art as an entrapment. Art is both the seen and unseen, the visible and the visualized. Though the book takes place in different times and different places, through different voices, it all comes together in the unfolding relationships between artists and mentors.
This is a book to savor, one that is a page-turner and also one that must be read slowly. It is one of the best books I have read this decade. I highly recommend Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking and Suri Hustvedt's book, What I Loved: A Novel, for those who enjoy 'How to Paint a Dead Man'.
How to Paint a Dead Man weaves together four different stories: a photographer coping with the loss of her twin brother, a quirky landscape artist in a dangerous situation, a dying man who paints bottles in seclusion, and a blind girl. Each story introduces different philosophical questions about art (i.e., what is it? Does it mean anything? What makes an artist?) all of them compelling and never entirely answered.
Susan speaks in second person, which I've always found to be an engaging, albeit presumptuous, POV. When she and her twin brother were children, she couldn't distinguish herself from him. She has a hard time figuring out who "I" is. And after his death, by using "you" she distances herself from her bereavement; the second person also intimately connects her to the reader. She neglects her photography and strikes up an affair. In her urgent need to be outside of herself, she creates and destroys indiscriminately.
The landscape artist, Peter, falls between two boulders while trying to paint on a mountainside. While stuck, he reflects on his previous disastrous marriage and his life as an artist. Peter is an extremely odd character; the way Hall handles Peter's scattered personality and darkly shrouded past seems like commentary on modern day artists.
Giorgio is an old man and a very famous painter of bottles. He lives hermit-like on a hilltop and has infrequent visitors. His guilt about his Jewish wife's death causes him to become absorbed in his work. Giorgio's inner monologue is a meditation on art and seems some what archaic and overly philosophical. His story lacks any narrative drive.
Annette, the blind girl, is born into a very conservative Italian family. She and her brothers sell flowers in the market and she paints occasionally. We learn how she became blind and what it's like to "see" from her POV. Annette converts sounds and smells into images. She is extremely intuitive, yet kept purposefully naive by her mother. Annette's chapters are where Hall does her most creative work.
The major problem with this book is that there is no plot driven story. Though the characters are interesting, I wasn't invested in them (except Susan). The book itself is like a work of art that you would appreciate in a museum, but wouldn't hang in your home.
I called it a perfect novel, because there is no sensationalism, stock cliches or melodrama here. I defy many writers today to pull it off. I won't go into the themes of aesthetics, perceptions, grief, fear of death or loss of innocence. Suffice it to say that even the secondary characters are essential and believable. Having read the book three times in the past year, I intend to do so again.