Book Review: The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill
by Julie Failla Earhart
Susan Hill may not be a household name, but the movie made from one of her novels, The Woman in Black starring Daniel Radcliffe, has opened nationwide to fabulous reviews. Hill is no stranger to a ghost story. I recently read one of her later novels, The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story.
When Oliver studied at Cambridge, he became extremely fond of Professor Theo Parmitter. The two have stayed in touch over the years. Parmitter is now an old, old man, and senses that his end is near. He decides that when Oliver comes to visit him, he will reveal the deepest, darkest secret he has.
The secret involves a painting that Parmitter, an avid art collector, acquired when he was a young man. The painting of a Venetian carnival scene hangs in an obscure place in the Professor’s room. The work is from an unknown artist; however, the man in the foreground seems oddly out of place. In fact, he seems to be more a 21st-century man.
Parmitter tells him how he came to own the painting, including the rather eerie and strange tale of how he won it at auction from an elderly aristocrat, Lady Hawdon. Hawdon claims that the man in the foreground is her husband who disappeared one night during the Carnival. He supposedly came to be in the picture after it was received by the couple as a wedding present from Lord Hawdon’s jilted lover. But how could this be? If I say any more, I risk a spoiler.
Hill’s macabre story is short, only 145 pages. It alternates between the past and present with amazing dexterity. It has eerie undertones that gave me the creeps as I read along, though dragging a bit in the middle. It wasn’t until the story’s conclusion, that the true darkness and the antiquarian ghost story is revealed.