Can you really find happiness and love in collections and possessions? That’s one of the questions raised by Antoine Laurain’s latest novel The Portrait.
Disclosure: I received a copy of The Portrait for review. The opinions below are my own and unbiased.
Antoine Laurain’s novel The President’s Hat is a novel that I’ve been meaning to read for some time. So when his latest book, The Portrait, turned up in the post, I was definitely looking forward to reading it.
The Portrait is a slim book, containing just under 130 pages. Pierre-François Chaumont is convinced that he should have been something important in life, but somehow has found himself working as a lawyer. He is also a prolific collector of things – anything from rubbers to antiques. Chaumont’s motto is ‘It’s a collection when you have two and are looking for a third’.
At an auction, Chaumont find an antique portrait of a man who looks just like he does. He is determined to own it, whatever the cost. But when he takes it home, his wife can’t see the resemblance, and nor can their friends. This humiliation starts Pierre-François on a path to a new life.
The Portrait is divided into two parts: The Man Who Loved Objects, which sets the scene, and The Absentee, which covers Chaumont’s new life. Chaumont has an inflated sense of his own importance, and it would be easy to dislike him. The book also tells the story of a marriage in decline, which could be a very morose subject. But The Portrait is written with such good humour that I found myself on Chaumont’s side – at least for most of the time!
The people and locations in The Portrait are beautifully described in vivid detail. And I’d also like to mention here the excellent work of Jane Aitken and Emily Boyce, who have translated the novel so beautifully. It’s a skill that I’m always in awe of!
Laurain’s writing is absolutely exquisite and makes reading The Portrait a real delight. Although the book is very short, the story builds up graduall to an ending with an unexpected twist. It’s one of those endings that you have to go back and re-read because it’s such a surprise!
I happily lost myself in this whimsical tale, and I will definitely be reading more of Laurain’s work very soon!
A collector unearths the find of a lifetime: an eighteenth-century portrait of a man uncannily like him. While wandering through a Paris auction house, avid collector Pierre-François Chaumont is stunned to discover the eighteenth-century portrait of an unknown man who looks just like him.
Much to his delight, Chaumont’s bid for the work is successful, but back at home his jaded wife and circle of friends are unable to see the resemblance.
Chaumont remains convinced of it, and as he researches into the painting’s history, he is presented with the opportunity to abandon his tedious existence and walk into a brand new life…
A beautifully written tale with an unexpected twist at the end: 9/10