How to Paint a Dead Man (Magill's Literary Annual 2010)
Sarah Hall’s fourth novel, How to Paint a Dead Man, has received mostly positive reviews. The novel is critically acclaimed for its portrayal of its characters’ psyches and its connection to art. Further, Hall’s writing has been praised for her daring style and layout. Hall has also been applauded for her emotional intensity, sensuality, and intelligence. Much commentary mentions the novel’s subtle interlacing of character and theme. Additional commendation centers on a thematic association with contemporary concerns in the British art world, as well as with social and cultural changes. Negative criticism of the novel centers on its lack of plot and heavy-handed characterization, with one reviewer making the claim that the minor characters stand out the strongest.
Hall builds the novel around two historical references: a quote from French philosopher Gaston Bachelard and an excerpt from Italian artist Cennino d’Andrea Cennini’s book Il libro dell’arte (wr. 1437, pb. 1821 as Trattato della pittura; A Treatise on Painting, 1844; better known as The Craftsman’s Handbook, 1933). Bachelard’s words “Things are not what they are, they are what they become” begin the novel, and the passage from Cennini’s text provides closure. The philosophical theme that opens the novel suggests that people’s lives are affected by potentials. Things are constantly changing; nothing remains static.
(The entire section is 1573 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2010)
The Daily Telegraph (London), June 6, 2009, p. 24.
The Financial Times, June 13, 2009, p. 16.
The Guardian (London), June 6, 2009, p. 14.
Kirkus Reviews 77, no. 17 (September 1, 2009): 908.
The New York Times Book Review, September 27, 2009, p. 26.
Publishers Weekly 256, no. 30 (July 27, 2009): 40.
The Times (London), June 6, 2009, p. 12.
The Times Literary Supplement, June 5, 2009, p. 20.
(The entire section is 43 words.)