Saturday, 5 November 2016

The Man in the Picture

Susan Hill
Profile Books

An extraordinary ghost story from a modern master, published just in time for Halloween. In the apartment of Oliver's old professor at Cambridge, there is a painting on the wall, a mysterious depiction of masked revellers 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.

Although this book is subtitled 'A Ghost Story' I can't help feeling that to be a bit of a misnomer.  There're no ghosts in it,  plenty of haunted people and a darkly delicious core idea but not really any actual ghosts.

This novella tells a story within a story that's framed, at the very last inside two other stories all concerning the same painting of Venice and the people depicted within. An elderly Cambridge professor tells a visiting ex-student of his acquisition of the painting and the events that surround him gaining a deeper understanding of it's history and the tale surrounding it.

In the classic way of things much of what happens does so through the telling of tales around a fire with a glass of liquor to hand and a cosiness that offsets the mounting unease.  The professor's story at the heart of the tale shares this with it's country house setting but suffers from a marked similarity to Wilkie Collins' 'The Haunted Hotel'.  The outermost layer of the story is likewise flawed but also in it's rather heavy handed attempt to provide a 'shock' ending that can be seen coming long before it lands.

If I sound overly negative then please understand that there is much to like here.  Hill is a writer with an eminently readable style and she's obviously and utterly au fait with those writers of the macabre, the unsettling and the weird that she is channelling here and with only 145 pages it provided me with a pleasantly macabre early Sunday morning read alongside some mellow music and a cafetiere full of my favourite coffee.

Buy it here -  The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story (The Susan Hill Collection)

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