Book Quote:

“In Il Libro dell’Arte, Cenninni teaches us how to paint wounds, using unalloyed vermillion as the base, and lac resin applied sparingly, so the blood continues to shine…. I have often wondered if the condition of death is perhaps less grave to the human anatomy than physical injuries. For in death there is release from suffering.   Sadly, the master craftsman is unable to instruct us in the healing of wounds.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody (MAY 15, 2010)

Sometimes one is privileged to read a book that is so brilliant we hope it never ends. Such is the case with How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall. This is Ms. Hall’s fourth book. Her second book, The Electric Michelangelo, was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

This is a book about art and artists, about life and grief. It is about “how we investigate our existence and make meaning and teach one another in small and large ways.” The composition of the book is like a chorale in music;   woven of four parts, each part about a different artist and each artist playing a different role in the book.

There is Suzi, a curator and photographer, who is so lost in her grief for her dead twin and mentor, Danny, that she has lost herself. No matter what extremes she goes to in order to feel alive, her grief is pervasive and overriding. In fact, the emotion is so strong that she denies it is grief. “You’re not sure what’s wrong exactly; it’s hard to put your finger on, hard to articulate. It isn’t grief. Grief would be simple. Something internal, something integral, has shifted. You feel lost from yourself. No. Absent. You feel absent. It’s like looking into a mirror and seeing no familiar reflection, no one you recognize hosted within the glass.” Hall’s descriptions of grief are the most profound and poignant I have ever read. The poignancy is reflected in the demise of the human spirit as it searches to be reborn.

Annette is a blind Italian florist, caught up in the visions in her head. Despite her mother’s attempts to keep her childlike, she blooms , much like the flowers she loves. She sees beauty in others, senses colors, and is empathic. She imagines the world in all its sensory glory and has been deeply influenced by Giorgio, the artist who taught in her school when she was a child. Years after his death, she still brings flowers to his grave.

Giorgio is an elderly Italian artist of some renown. His character is based on that of the actual artist, Giorgio Morandi, known for his exquisitely shaded paintings of bottles. Giorgio lives a reclusive life but is influential in mentoring a young landscape artist named Peter.

Peter’s landscape art takes him to the brink of danger, and the very landscape that he loves and is the source of his inspiration, becomes a threat to his life. He is Suzi and Danny’s father and has been Suzi’s mentor. He himself, an over-the-top, expressive human being has been mentored distantly by Giorgio who is one of the most disciplined of artists.

This is a book about art and artists. It examines the discipline of art – – its freedom and passion along with the sense of release that art provides. It also explores art as an entrapment. Art is both the seen and unseen, the visible and the visualized. Though the book takes place in different times and different places, through different voices, it all comes together in the unfolding relationships between artists and mentors.

This is a book to savor, one that is a page-turner and also one that must be read slowly. It is one of the best books I have read this decade.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 10 readers
PUBLISHER: Harper Perennial (September 8, 2009)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: If you like this, you’ll like these:

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

What I Loved by Suri Hustvedt

Every Last One by Anna Quindlin

Stay by Nicola Griffith


May 15, 2010 · Judi Clark · One Comment
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Contemporary, Literary, Unique Narrative, y Award Winning Author

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