The portrait by Willem Jan Otten
Original title – Specht en zoon
Translator – David Colmer
Source – review copy
I think images are worth repeating
Images repeated from a painting
Images taken from a painting
From a photo worth re-seeing
I love images worth repeating, project them upon the ceiling
Multiply them with silk screening
See them with a different feeling
Images by Lou Reed and John Cale from their album Songs for Drella about Andy Warhol
When I was asked to review this award-winning Dutch book from scribe ,I was pleased as Scribe the Australian publisher has not long moved into the uk market and has over last few years found some gems in translation ,like David Vogel ,whose books have been on my radar for a while .So The portrait or in its Dutch title Specht and son ,is the fourth novel by Willem Jan Otten ,he is also a well-known poet , playwright and essayist in his native Holland ,he has won a number of awards including two for this book ,the most prestigious being the Libris literature prize a Dutch language prize whose previous winners include Harry Mulisch ,Hugo Claus and JJ Voskull .
I admit to remembering virtually nothing of the moment I was finally brought .It was a nondescript man ,smallish ,in a dark-blue army-disposials coat and paint splashed shoes .He had wide ,avid eyes but I didn’t really see them wile the transaction was taking place .
The canvas is brought and taking tom wait at the studio .
So the portrait ,is an unusual book as the narrator of this book is a canvas , we see the story unfold from its point of view .The book starts at the end as a man walks in the snow towards a fire ,then we go back in time and this canvas is waiting for what it calls the creator to use it .The creator is an up and coming young painter known for his realistic paintings of people .He has been hired by Specht who is a rich and powerful man who could help the creator become better known he has asked the creator to make a photo of his late son into a painting like his other painting and breath life into it , to save his own life .So as the creator starts to cover the canvas we start to find out who is being painted on him ,is it Specht’s son or something more sinster what is their relationship ? What happened to this young boy ? Who is Specht why was he in such a rush for the painter to create this painting for him ?
Specht had sat down again .
I actually only have one question , he said
His voice ,which had been very quiet the whole time had become virtually inaudible .
Do you also work from death ?
Specht ask the creator does he paint from death and the canvas gets its chance to come to life .
Now this is one of those books that just goes at a pace when you start reading it ,at points I had to keep saying to myself this is just a canvas as the narrator as it’s jumps of the page ,we see its waiting as the creator ,choose other canvases before it until the big job he has been destined to be used for comes in .The book has a slightly Moral feel to it almost as thou the story of Specht’s son is a wider story of lost children everywhere .I read in a Dutch interview I translated online that Otten has convert to Catholicism with his wife in the 90’s and this book was picked as an example of literature reflecting Christian values and morals the ClO 15 list ,which also features a book ny his wife Yvone van der Meer the list shows the literary merit Christian literature can have .Know I can see you shaking your head and I am not a big fan of overtly Christian books ,I can say this isn’t you can read into it that it is but also just read it as a story of a painting being made and the young bo is in the painting a journey through a life of a canvas and it’s subject .Also another readable and faultless translation by David Colmer .Have you a favourite book about artist and paintings ?