Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Man in the Picture

The Man in the Picture, by Susan Hill

Publisher's Blurb:
An extraordinary ghost story from a modern master. In the apartment of Oliver's old professor at Cambridge, there is a painting on the wall, a mysterious depiction of masked revelers at the Venice carnival. On this cold winter's night, the old professor has decided to reveal the painting's eerie secret. The dark art of the Venetian scene, instead of imitating life, has the power to entrap it. To stare into the painting is to play dangerously with the unseen demons it hides, and become the victim of its macabre beauty.

By the renowned storyteller Susan Hill--whose first ghost story, The Woman in Black, has run for eighteen years as a play in London's West End--here is a new take on a form that is fully classical and, in Hill's able hands, newly vital. The Man in the Picture is a haunting tale of loss, love, and the very basest fear of our beings.

First off, (from the blurb above) "the very basest fear of our beings"?  Of our beings?  What does that even mean?  ...Anyway...

If you're young and/or new to ghost stories... If you're looking for something a little fluffy-- a quick, easy read...  If you don't want to be really scared... If you're not terribly picky and you enjoyed The Woman in Black and want more by the same author, by all means, give this a read.  It's so short, it won't take long.  It's fine for a little light ghostly entertainment, but it doesn't live up to its potential.  Either it could have been trimmed into something shorter or it could have been expanded upon-- fleshed out.  As it is, it felt like butter spread too thin over toast.  The story was a bit too predictable and repetitive to be great.  Still, parts of it were very nice, if you like this style of book (and I do).  The beginning held a lot of promise; the latter part of the book simply didn't deliver as strongly as I'd hoped.

More particulars:

--  This novella reminded me a little of "The Mezzotint" by M.R. James-- another ghost story with a sinister work of art.  (From what I recall, that short story was much creepier than this book, but I think the ending might have been a little weak in that one, too.)

--  I kept waiting for some explanation of / elaboration on the (apparently) particularly evil-looking man in the painting.  Did I miss something?

--  I wonder when this book is set.  The mention of cars and electricity early in the story let me know it wasn't Victorian ;o)-- but I was stunned near the end to see a mention of a mobile phone. 

--  Interesting that Hill mentions a character sitting "with crochet on her lap, her hands still", because I recall that one of the characters in The Woman in Black also crocheted.  (Interesting only to the crochet-obsessed, like myself.)

--  I know that characters almost have to behave stupidly in these books, but come on.  Why can't these people just tell their loved ones how they feel?  "Please, dear.  I have a really bad feeling about going to Venice.  Can we go to XYZ instead?"  And then insist on it!

--  Incidentally, thanks to this book and "Don't Look Now" (Daphne du Maurier), I now think of Venice as a very creepy sort of place.  (g)