Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Underpainter

by Jane Urquhart
I picked up Jane Urquhart's 4th book on a whim in a used book store. I'm not even sure where. It took me a while to get in to the story, but I was drawn on by Urquhart's amazing skill with words. Her first two books are poetry collections, and it shows. It really shows.
By mid-way in the story, I was visualising not just the paintings the narrator creates, but the landscapes and cityscapes through which he moves. Yet it's just this richness and variety of the landscapes makes the flatness of the characters confusing at first.
The narrator is an artist, an observer of life who keeps himself separate from and slightly (or not so slightly) superior to the other characters. And because we experience them moderated by him, we only see them in his flat interpretations. X is a model to be consumed and used. Y is a provincial hack to be patronized. Z is a drunken charicature to be humoured.
Of course, as someone for whom story is ALL about character, I was bothered by the characteization until the final few chapters. I want to like the people I read about. And I especially want to identify with the narrator. But that just wasn't possible with someone who never loves, is never upset, never overcomes. And yet this man, this narrator, is ultimately compelling. And tragic in his own empty way.
Now THAT's some good writing!

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