Tuesday, 19 November 2013

"The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story," by Susan HIll

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

This is a book that I read a few months ago but, as I still haven't been feeling great and haven't been reading much, I am only just getting around to writing about it.  This is likely to mean that my review will be a bit shorter than usual and perhaps a bit more hazy.  However, it does mean that, coincidentally, I am writing about this novella almost exactly a year after having read and written about "The Woman in Black." This book was even loaned to me by the same friend (thanks Bill, who has also been very disappointed in me for not writing much recently).

In this novella, the narrator pays a visit to Theo Parmitter, an elderly man who was his university tutor at Cambridge.  Theo asks him if he would like to hear a "strange and somewhat disturbing story."  It's an invitation that I suspect no-one with natural human curiosity could decline, and Theo starts to recount a story of going to an auction and purchasing a painting of a Venetian scene that is not to his normal taste.  This painting has exerted a sinister fascination over him, and he is unable to relinquish the picture even when a latecomer arrives to the auction who badly wants to purchase it. As Theo continues the story, the narrator becomes increasingly aware of his unease...

I enjoyed this and found it easier to read than "The Woman in Black." This might mean that I am getting used to Susan Hill's prose style, however I think it more likely that I felt more comfortable with this style of ghost story because it is very M.R. James (and, although I haven't read anything by him for a while, I am very fond of his writing).  It is hard to beat M.R. James when it comes to the creepy, atmospheric, slow-burn ghost story.  In particular this brought back hazy memories of "The Mezzotint."

I am also very fond of writing and films with a Venetian connection - having been to Venice on honeymoon - so I was already predisposed to enjoy this.  This is, however, not the Venice of my experience (thankfully).  The Venice that we saw was sunlit and beautiful.  This is the sinister and ominous Venice of "Don't Look Now;" of dark and oppressive alleyways, reeking canals and shops of sinister, gloating carnival masks.  I'm very glad not to know that Venice; the closest we came was getting lost in Canaregio one night (which seemed to be a more run-down and less touristy area of Venice). 

This has put me in the mood for more good ghost stories (or maybe, now that it is getting colder and night falls earlier, it is more the time of year for a creepy tale).  I still have a couple of posts to catch up with writing, but I'm not sure what to read next....

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