We shall see each other by our mind’s eye

May 4, 2010 at 7:59 pm | Posted in Literary Fiction | Leave a comment

Sarah Hall ‘How To Paint a Dead Man’, Faber, April 2010

What kind of reader are you? Do you skim through prose looking for the narrative in a book, do you find a happy balance between the two or maybe you like both at different times? ‘How To Paint a Dead Man’ may make you want to re-identify what type of reader you are for a few reasons…

In her novel ‘How To Paint a Dead Man’ Sarah Hall is an author in the traditional sense. An author of traditional long passages of poetic prose. However the complexity of how the story is crafted shows her as an author in the modern sense. Four very different characters, with slight connections, guide Sarah’s prose on the idea of art and death. In the 1960’s Umbria, Italy, a much celebrated still life painter is dying and is seeing ever more life in his art.  In a neighbouring village a girl is going slowly blind and is developing strong inner vision. In contemporary Britain a bohemian landscape artist  is struggling with middle age and his daughter, a museum curator, is embarking on an affair of reckless sexual abandon in order to cope with the death of her twin brother from a drug fuelled bicycle ride. The contemporary characters struggle to find an inner vision and establish a position on art and death which is the novels central tenant.

Sarah’s first novel ‘The Electric Michelangelo’ was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and her third novel ‘The Carhullen Army’ won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. This latest novel is resplendent. I just love her literary style with long passages of poetic prose, meditations on very tangible ideas of art, death, fragile and delicate human emotions. The lonely and the outgoing work together in a novel where identity and dislocation flirt with grief and sex.

It is a very interesting novel in that Sarah cannot, in my opinion , be pegged as a certain type of author by her style just as opposing ideas and characters are used to evoke some of the most ripe prose on themes common to us all; life, death, art, relationships and identity.

It is undeniable to say that the story becomes overshadowed by sentences and prose but it is nothing to ruminate over. I could have continued reading this novel’s prose for another week. I loved seeing life itself in the still life paintings of bottles by the dying artist ‘which footprints in the dust lead to the real bottles and which lead towards duplicity’ and basked in Sarah’s sentences in description of the dying artist He smelled of smoke, like a bonfire in autumn, and he was wise and kind. ‘Remember’ he told her, ‘when there is no more hope, we shall see each other by our mind’s eye.’

Haiku; Prose reveals the art, of how to paint a dead man, reveal more Sarah.

Click here to view this book on Amazon.co.uk

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