Monday, April 24, 2006

I see you

I just finished the Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, which was quite good. Since it is set in 1890s NYC, I thought it was going to be a period piece, but it isn't. I think it is set in the time frame to make the plot believable. The main character is an artist who has lost his way. He paints portraits for people he despises and is coming to doubt his abilities. A woman approaches him and asks him to paint her portrait without ever actually seeing her. Since it is the late 19th century there are few if any photographic records and he cannot find any image of her.

There is strong emphasis placed on seeing, eyes and vision. There is a strange plague around town that cause people to bleed out from the eyes. Characters go in and out of disguise. This builds to the key concept of man as obsessive viewer and woman as reluctant object. Sounds dry and boring, but it is quite good. There are a number of strange little asides in the book, one of which involved researching this scatalogical out of print volume (take note, the link is pretty gross, which will make all the more appealing to some of you).

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