Thursday, October 4, 2012

Welcome to the dark carnival

Imagine you’ve gone to visit a dear old friend, and after having a good dinner and conversation, your friend turns to you and asks if you would like to hear a “strange and disturbing” story. It’s a bitterly cold night, and as you both sit by a cozy fire, a good story sounds delightful. But this is no tall-tale you’re about to hear. No, my friend, this is something far creepier. Thus begins Susan Hill’s The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story. In it, Cambridge professor Theo Parmitter relates to one of his former students the story of a strange painting that he purchased as a young man at an art auction and which he still owns. Depicting a rather sinister-looking Venetian carnival scene, this painting—according to what Theo was told of it—apparently has the power to trap the living within its confines, taking them out of this world forever. To be sure, there is a face on the canvas that appears eerily similar to one Theo was shown in a photograph, but surely this is only coincidence? No mere painting could possess the demonic power necessary to accomplish such a feat, could it? Oh, but it could, and according to its dark history, it has claimed many. And yet, ever since he first laid eyes on it, Theo has never been able to rid himself of the desire to possess it, an irrationality that will ultimately prove to be both his and his young friend’s undoing.

With The Man in the Picture, Susan Hill has crafted yet another short but ghoulishly delightful page turner, keeping in line with her much more well-known The Woman in Black. The witching season is almost upon us, so if you’re looking for a quick but classically written ghost story, add this one to your reading lists. And while you’re at it, don’t forget her very latest dark tale, The Small Hand. I enjoyed all three, and hopefully you will too.


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