The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill
Oliver is in town to visit his former tutor and mentor, Theo Parmitter. They catch up and reminisce about old times when Theo suddenly announces after dinner that he has a story he must tell Oliver in order to regain his peace of mind. Having been an art trader when he was younger, Theo has picked up a mysterious Venetian painting of Carnevale from ancient times. Even though he is begged by the agent of an unknown buyer to name his price- and sell the painting, the painting has already taken a hold of Theo. He falls under its strange power and refuses to part with it for any amount of money, even when he learns its deadly history and suspects that he will pay the ultimate price. I have another book on my shelf by Susan Hill entitled The Various Haunts of Men, though I didn’t realize it when I picked up this book to read. A cross between The Picture of Dorian Gray and an Edgar Allan Poe short, this tale started out creepy but left too many unanswered questions in my mind for me to really appreciate it. The atmosphere and the suspense set in right from the beginning. Set in a creepy and deserted-for-the-term college campus, it’s filled with mysterious figures lingering in the shadows and curiously unexplained mishaps. A delightfully chilling tale within a tale, within a tale, within a tale, I was a little apprehensive about starting to read it late at night, and more jumpy than usual at bedtime, peering into shadows around my room and half wondering whether I would see a face lurking in the dark. And then, all of that promise fell flat, which was disappointing because it could have been easily remedied had the book been longer. I can’t go into too much detail without giving the story away completely, but character motivations and development were sparse, and I just didn’t feel there were any valid explanations into why this curse was being passed along to the people. Was the painting haunted? After its initial reasons for revenge was it just content to continue wreaking havoc on the lives of those who came to possess it? What happened to the people who were affected by the painting? What happened to cause the painting to come to exist and begin its deadly work? I was very disappointed not to find these answers. Not knowing made the whole thing less creepy, and I was more inclined to concentrate on the holes within the plot. That being said I am really looking forward to reading The Various Haunts of Men. I suspect that the problems I encountered due to the lack of length won’t be as much of a problem since it is a full length novel. I enjoyed Susan Hill’s writing. It was suspenseful and atmospheric, and I thought she did an excellent job capturing the spirit of a different time through the dialogue and scene descriptions. I can’t wait to see what she does in a full length novel where she answers some of the questions that her story asks.