Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque by Jeffrey Ford

Odd. Nowhere near as odd as his earlier fantasy The Physiognomy and sequels, but odd nonetheless.

I was expecting another fantasy, but this turned out to be a fairly straight historical fiction. The closest thing to a sfnal element in the setting was the unusual (and gruesome) disease/parasite.

Let's see, plot... a portraitist named Piambo recieves an unusual commission: to paint the portrait of a woman, Mrs. Charbuque (or Luciere), who will not allow him to either see her or question her on her appearance. He may question her on any other topic, and if he succeeds in portraying her accurately, his already substantial commission will be doubled. Piambo is becoming tired of society portraits and accepts the commission, hoping to earn enough to retire from portraiture for a time and devote himself to his art.

What ensues is a battle of wills between and psychological study of Piambo and Luciere. Meanwhile, women in the city start bleeding to death through their eyeballs.

I might have enjoyed this book more if I hadn't read the author's previous work. His earlier Cley and Bellow were most remarkably unpleasant characters, and I spent some time suspiciously watching Piambo, waiting for him to reveal himself to be equally unsympathetic. I ended up rather liking him, though.

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