Published:11 Oct. 2007
Publisher:Profile; Main Edition
There are two reasons I was drawn to Susan Hill’s book The Man in the Picture. Firstly it was set in Venice, a place I love with all my heart and a great setting for spooky stories such as Daphne Du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now. I’m cheekily sharing some of those spooky corners I captured in photographs when I was last there. Secondly, when I started reading and our hero is in the rooms of his professor it reminded me so much of my friend Nigel, whose home was festooned with art, Venetian chandeliers and antique clocks. I feel that with all of Susan Hill’s books she raises the tension so slowly that you barely notice rather like the proverbial frog placed in a pan of cold water – the temperature changes so subtly the frog doesn’t jump out and is boiled to death. I often find myself reading one of her novellas thinking it isn’t really scary until I hear an unexpected noise and jump out of my skin! That’s a real skill.
Our hero visits his professor on a cold winter’s night and notices a beautiful painting of the Venice carnival. For the first time he is told a macabre story about the painting. It doesn’t just imitate a Venetian scene, it can entrap someone within it. Whoever stares into the painting finds it exerts a power over their life and as Theo talks to others who’ve crossed paths with it, he unearths a profound sense of foreboding and unease. Within the painting is a young man, watching the festivities but instead of happiness there’s a look of horror on his face. Everyone else is masked, covering their identity. The professor is so attached to the painting that he has turned down lucrative offers for it. The narrator becomes interested in tracing the man in the picture, but finds much more than he bargains for as his professor dies and the painting passes into his hands. This obsession is compounded when his he gets married and his new wife Anne wants a honeymoon in Venice. Will they go and if they do what will happen to the picture?
This is a great novella that’s easy to read in an evening or afternoon. Best read in front of a roaring fire on a wintry night. Having been to Venice, I can vouch for how creepy it can be at night. There’s a creeping fog over the canals and many areas that become deserted at night leaving only the sound of water and boats creaking at their moorings. If you get lost at night, it can feel like an endless maze where you wouldn’t be surprised to see a masked and cloaked figure on a balcony. Hill brings that menace and mystery to the book, as well as a sense of evil. It made me think twice about buying any paintings when I was in Venice.
Meet The Author
Susan Hill has been a professional writer for over fifty years. Her books have won awards and prizes including the Whitbread, the John Llewellyn Rhys and the Somerset Maugham; and have been shortlisted for the Booker. She was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Honours. Her novels include Strange Meeting, I’m the King of the Castle, In the Springtime of the Year and A Kind Man. She has also published autobiographical works and collections of short stories as well as the Simon Serrailler series of crime novels. The play of her ghost story The Woman in Black has been running in London’s West End since 1988. She has two adult daughters and lives in North Norfolk.