The portrait by Willem Jan Otten

the-portrait_300dpi-280x430

The portrait by Willem Jan Otten

Dutch Fiction 

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
Images
Images
Images

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 ?

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jacquiwine
    Sep 10, 2014 @ 17:24:55

    I wasn’t aware of this author before, and it’s good to hear about a (relatively) new publisher to the UK market.

    I’m struggling to think of a favourite book about a painting or artist…I have a copy of The Goldfinch but wonder if I’ll ever find the time to read it. How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall has been on my radar for a while as I like her short stories very much.

    Reply

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Sep 10, 2014 @ 19:12:19

    Love “Songs for Drella” – off to have a listen!

    Reply

  3. Col
    Sep 11, 2014 @ 08:38:28

    As ever this is a new author to me. My favourite book about artists and paintings is definitely Rembrandt’s Eyes by Simon Schama, a biography that reads like a novel for me. Best biography I’ve ever read really. The use of the canvas as narrator in The Portrait reminds me a bit of Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red which tells the story from lots of perspectives such as animals and inanimate objects. Loved that too. So as it sounds similar will definitely try this.

    Reply

  4. 1streading
    Sep 17, 2014 @ 19:15:27

    Once again you have drawn my attention to a writer I’m sure I would otherwise never have heard of.
    As for books about art, I remember liking Adam Thorpe’s The Rules of Perspective. Pat Barker has also recently juxtaposed art and war.

    Reply

  5. Trackback: My IFFP prediction post 2015 | Winstonsdad's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

September 2014
M T W T F S S
« Aug   Oct »
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
2930  
%d bloggers like this: