Urquhart, Jane "The Underpainter" - 1997
We had read "The Stone Carvers" in our book club and I quite liked it. I was looking forward to another interesting historical novel by this author. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed.
The story is very slow to start. For quite a while, I did not get the feeling that anything on the pages was relating to the rest of the book. Only slowly do we meet the protagonist and get the idea what he is rambling on about.
I have read better accounts about people who survived a war, and I have read a lot of them. This one, well, first of all, the book is told from the perspective of someone who hasn't participated in it. Neither have I, so I should relate to him, right?
But I don't. Even when the story unfolds, the painter Austin Fraser, who is telling the story, doesn't come across as being a very sympathetic guy, I have even grown to dislike him. He is an egoistic misogynist, a rich spoilt brat who never grew up and didn't have to worry about a thing in the world.
Unfortunately, this novel has been one of the most unsatisfying ones that I have read for a while. It leaves an empty void that could not be filled. Even the attempt of wrapping it up together at the end, didn't make this a good book. Maybe this was not only the second but also the last book I read by Jane Urquhart.
There was one quote in the book that I did like because it is a great thought to ponder. On page 186:
"I have no quarrel with the Germans [sic ]... we were all in it together, that we were just vandals, really, bent on destroying western culture. Finally it seemed to me that Europe was one vast museum whose treasures were being smashed by hired thugs. We weren't making history, we were destroying it .... eliminating it. ..."
A good point against any war because this quote does not just relay to WWI but to any of those useless battles where young people get killed for the power and money of others.
From the back cover:
"'The Underpainter' is a novel of interwoven lives in which the world of art collides with the realm of human emotion. It is the story of Austin Fraser, an American painter now in his later years, who is haunted by memories of those whose lives most deeply touched his own, including a young Canadian soldier and china painter and the beautiful model who becomes Austin’s mistress. Spanning decades, the setting moves from upstate New York to the northern shores of two Great Lakes; from France in World War One to New York City in the ’20s and ’30s. Brilliantly depicting landscape and the geography of the imagination, 'The Underpainter' is Jane Urquhart’s most accomplished novel to date."