There is much to admire in Sarah Hall’s How to Paint a Dead Man: her elegant style and exceptional use of metaphor, her contemplative and complicated narrative that weaves together four related stories and her ability to construct memorable characters. I enjoyed, in particular, the renowned Italian painter at the end of his life, contemplating significant events whilst being harried by his over-solicitous house-keeper.
Why, in the end though, did this story leave me cold? The drawing to a conclusion of the four narrative threads felt orchestrated and forced. The fate of Annette, the blind girl who doesn’t know how beautiful she is, was obvious from the start and unsatisfying. The characters, though memorable, were straight out of central casting.
Hall writes beautifully, with a painterly touch of building up her character, scene and plot layer by layer, slowly. This story has a sense though of painting by numbers.