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How to Paint a Dead Man: A Novel

3.58 of 5 stars 3.58  ·  rating details  ·  677 ratings  ·  132 reviews
The lives of four individuals—a dying painter, a blind girl, a landscape artist, and an art curator—intertwine across nearly five decades in this luminous and searching novel of extraordinary power. With How to Paint a Dead Man, Sarah Hall, "one of the most significant and exciting of Britain's young novelists" (The Guardian), delivers "a maddeningly enticing read . . . an ...more
Paperback, 306 pages
Published September 8th 2009 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2009)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,079)
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Kirsty Darbyshire

I loved this. The writing is fabulous - full of sentences that make you sit back and marvel at their ingenuity and the images that they conjure up.

The chapters of the book flip between four different viewpoints. Each is set in a different place and time stays tightly with a single character and each is very individually written with no chance of a reader muddling up the writing - the headings announcing which character was in this chapter were totally superfluous. The distinctive voices were in

This was a beautifully written book. The language thrilled me, frankly, and I'm sad it's over (fortunately the author has written other books). Hall's intertwining of 4 separate stories that take place at different moments in time yet are interactive was a delight to read.

Despite the melancholic to sadness of the book, it made me want to head outside and walk in the park, in the woods, past the neighborhood school and hear the life bubbling out from the young kids gamboling there. A desire to go
Kathleen Maher
Jan 28, 2012 Kathleen Maher rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers who love fiction as art and do not demand a high-action plot.
Recommended to Kathleen by: Ed Champion
Sarah Hall writes about four characters in this novel; each with her or his own section and voice. Some of them are related but their relation scarcely affects the differing narratives. The writing is lush throughout; the pace and thin plot-lines real to life; the construction a classic four-frame, one per character, with alternating narratives.
The writer's remarkably fine style fits and evokes the art of still-life painting to reveal each character's life. And their differing stories all focus
switterbug (Betsey)
An art curator wracked with grief over the tragic death of her twin brother; an aged, dying artist of still-life bottle art; a landscape artist; and a blind florist tell their inter-connected stories in alternating chapters of this stunning, imaginative novel. Spanning several generations in Italy and the U.S. (primarily rural Florence and San Francisco), the reader is taken on a journey of ideas and transported to the inner chambers of the heart. The story contemplates the nucleus of art, the e ...more
A clever concept novel in linking what seems like four disparate characters together in the story that gradually unfolds through four separate narrative strands and across two eras and countries: England and Italy, the novel deals with the eternal themes of love, loss, life and art.
However, I found that I couldn't like the grief stricken and destructive main female character (whose name escapes me) but that didn't matter as the other three were warmer and had more interesting back stories.
Bonnie Brody
Sometimes one is privileged to read a book that is so brilliant we hope it never ends. Such is the case with 'How to Paint a Dead Man' by Sarah Hall. This is Ms. Hall's fourth book. Her second book, 'The Electric Michelangelo', was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

This is a book about art and artists, about life and grief. It is about "how we investigate our existence and make meaning and teach one another in small and large ways". The book is like a chorale woven of four parts, each part a
Just superb; have a full review on FBC, while a minireview here:

After learning about How to Paint a Dead Man in the Booker Longlist, its cover and blurb attracted me so I bought it on publication day here in the US last week and I read it soon after, this being a novel that once you immerse in you cannot leave and read anything else, at least fiction, once it ends you are sad that it did so and want more, so you have to reread it at least once...

"How to Paint a Dead Man" is a deceptively short n

The sophisticated, poetic writing, and multiple narratives are impressive. It's refreshing to read a book that isn't predictable or pretentious.
I really enjoyed ... or is that appreciated ... this book. The interweaving of the lives of four people associated with painting over two countries and several decades is achieved very cleverly with some wonderful description. I especially loved the part where Susan discovered her twin brother had been killed: the evocation of grief has rarely been done better. I also liked the chapters about Annette whose coming to terms with blindness was also described vividly and convincingly [though I was l ...more
Maya Panika
This is an unusual book. Four individual stories told chapter by chapter, each chapter – not each story - following from the next. For forty pages, I thought it was unbearably pretentious but then the story within the stories began to unfold – you begin to see the tenuous threads that connect one to another. These threads are very slight, sometimes just a single word or sentence within the whole story that suddenly clues you in to why X connects to Y and informs and influences Z.

The style is ver
Kasa Cotugno
There are four disparate strands to this muscular rope of a book, apart at the beginning but ultimately woven together to create a story that promotes the importance of art in life. Each strand is set in a different time, written in a different style, the author challenging the reader to make the connections and draw their own conclusions. There is Suze's story, told in the second person, which is the most compelling, seemingly the centerpiece of the narrative. The story of her father, Peter, is ...more
I struggled with the last two books I read, so I really needed a book that would absorb me. Scanning the shelf of "waiting to be read" books I saw this. The author's name looked familiar and when I realised she had written The Electric Michaelangelo I thought this was a good bet.

I was completely absorbed, read it over the Bank Holiday weekend and it has left me with lots to think about.

It brings together four different stories over a period of about 40 years, all involving artists in one way of
I read this because it's about art and was highly recommended by Nina Sankovitch

Four characters whose lives interconnect relate their stories in four separate voices. An elderly artist in Italy, a young blind girl, also in Italy, a landscape artist in England, and an art curator in England who is mourning the death of her twin brother. The stories are very moving and there is some majestic prose.

But the novel lost power for me in the scattershot jumping around between
After reading this book, I am sticking to a new reading philosophy. Read at least 100 pages of a book before I decide to drop it. Starting off, I found this one quite confusing. 4 different narrators, who don't seem to be connected at all. Some in the past, some present, different narratative techniques (third, first, etc). I just couldnt keep track and really thought this was just a book too deep for me! I'm happy to report that at about page 80, everything clicked. It is beautifully written an ...more
I am not alone in thinking that although the writing was "painterly" and very beautiful this book had too many flaws for our book group to give it more than three stars. This is the average as some wanted to give it 2.5 and one (she who nominated the book 3.5). Yes the writing was evocative and painted vignettes however the structure of the book, became to confusing and at times feeling contrived with the links between stories. The biggest disappointment or flaw was the ending, it left me strand ...more
I tried to hate this book. It started out slowly; the plot lines were confusing. By the end, I loved it. It's a strange book. But it infused itself into me. I noticed this especially throughout Annette's story. By the end of her sections, I was seeing the world with her disrupted and dying eyesight. This book is so well-written. Needs to be read again. The connections between characters take time, but are perfectly rendered.
Jennifer D
Feb 19, 2012 Jennifer D rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Cait, Miss GP, Heather
Recommended to Jennifer by: June
Hall is bold and brave in her storytelling. It seems nothing is off-limits. Some moments might make you squirm in your seat with as raw emotions, feelings and actions are explored and acted upon.
Beautifully constructed, both sad and uplifting. Four interwoven characters slowly seep into you as you read about them and their art and lives. It's like reading a silent movie.
"How to Paint a Dead Man" was amazing on so many levels. Sarah Hall skillfully connects disparate characters across continents and times, using her handle on point of view as the breadcrumbs that keep the reader from getting lost. I'm still amazed at how easily she brings you into a scene, as if you are not reading a description but looking around yourself only find you've fallen into present-day London or post World War II Italy. Her tale of loss and death, and the way humans cope with those li ...more
Remarcabil la scriitura lui Hall este faptul că fiecare personaj are o voce proprie manifestată în primul rând prin perspectiva folosită: persoana a doua singular pentru Sarah, cea care și-a pierdut geamănul, evocând constant incapacitatea ei de a se raporta doar la sine, oroarea lipsei celei de-a doua persoane, dar și un anumit blocaj psihologic pe care tânăra îl manifesta în copilărie, persoana întâi pentru artistul bătrân, Signor Giorgio, aflat pe patul de moarte înconjurat de maiestuoasele s ...more
Emily Simpson
This novel bummed me out. Having recently read Hall's amazing new story collection and hearing great things from friends about her longer works, I was prepared to find another treasure in How to Paint a Dead Man. Where her sweeping, uniform passages work well in short form, I began to really find them daunting about midway through Dead Man. The novel offers first, second, and close third perspectives on four interconnected characters' lives. Though Hall's fantastic facility with naturalism and k ...more
Bij het lezen van 'De prachtige onverschilligheid' werd ik overdonderd door Halls vernuftig spelen met details (het weglaten van wat niet verteld hoeft te worden maar toch het verhaal maakt). In 'Portret van een dode man' speelt ze een ander kunstje met haar verhalen en de lezer: haar personages vertellen ons voldoende details, dit keer zijn het de verhalen (de verschillende 'hoofdstukken') die het spel van weglaten en aanvullen verzorgen. Het duurt even voor je de verschillende verhalen 'ergens ...more
Lolly K Dandeneau
What was beautiful about this book is the loss. Particularly the void inside of Suze when she loses her twin and what she turns to to make her feel again. What moved me is the gorgeous writing used to describe the relationship Suze had with her twin.
"Playgroup was a minefield. Nobody could really tell who you were talking about: yourself or Danny. The subjects of your speech were often confused and you and your brother babbled privately together, making up names for spiders, stomach aches and r
I read this for book club and as is often the case with a book club book, it was not a page turner (when will we do a Monica McInerney??). But as is also often the case, it was a nourishing read, notwithstanding the off putting grimy components of the various plots. It centres on four characters, Giorgio, a painter in the 60s nearing the end of his life; Annette, a blind girl who has some lovely moments with Giorgia; Peter, who paints cliff faces and then gets stuck in one, also has a nice relat ...more
8/9/11: Four tangentially intertwined stories told by different narrators with distinctive voices, HTPADM muses on the grand issues: love, family, art, religion, the essence of humanity. What is our purpose here on earth; how can we add to the goodness and beauty of the world without our own egos, flaws and disabilities getting in the way? How can we move ahead when our histories--personal and global--threaten to drag us down? How can we find joy and love when life is so full of evil and sadness ...more
A multi-threaded novel linking the lives of people in England and Italy, separated by time and distance, but linked together through art (should that be a capital "a"?). An ambitious story; the central characters are each battling through a personal life event, and the novel gradually links the characters together mainly through the use of backstories that reflect on their pasts. Other characters risk upstaging the quartet, yet this young writer ensures that they linger just long enough in the f ...more
Ilinca Damian

Dar ce se întâmplă atunci când ești nevoit să pictezi un mort, cum te apropii de esența și înțelegerea faptului real și material întruchipat de Moarte? Upanișadele indiene văd moartea ca esență a întregii existențe, ca forță motrice, ea creează pentru a avea ce mânca, ce distruge, ce transforma. Europenii pe de altă parte, văd moartea ca pe o pierdere, o asimilează fricii, întunericului, lipsei. Astfel, cum pictezi lipsa și întunericul? Cum, crescut într-o
May 27, 2010 Ehrrin marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
saw this in the Powell's Daily Dose on 5/27/10. The reader review (Elizabeth) sold me. "best books...quite possibly...of my life as a reader". Whoa. That's a strong statement.

here's the Daily Dose stuff:

Elizabeth's Comments:
""How to Paint a Dead Man" was amazing on so many levels. Sarah Hall skillfully connects disparate characters across continents and times, using her handle on point of view as the breadcrumbs that keep the reader from getting lost. I'm still amazed at how easily she brings yo
I participated in a roundtable on this book at Return of the Relucntant:

Here was my take in the conversation:

I waited until this morning, until I turned the final page in How to Paint a Dead Man, to take in your perspectives on the novel. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on it, especially because in many ways they seem to differ from mine. For example, I seem to be unusual in that I very much enjoyed Sarah Hall’s book, without qualification.

Here’s why.
In dit boek wordt het verhaal verteld van vier verschillende personen die in eerste instantie niets met elkaar te maken lijken te hebben. Ook vindt het verhaal niet in hetzelfde jaar plaats: zo is de schilder Giorgio al overleden tijdens het verhaal van de rest van de hoofdpersonen.

Vertaalde passage uit de flesdagboeken vertelt over hoe Giorgio terugkijkt en zijn laatste dagen bewust probeert te maken. Over zijn herinneringen aan het lesgeven aan Annette en het ontvangen van brieven van Peter. P
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Sarah Hall took a degree in English and Art History at Aberystwyth University, and began to take writing seriously from the age of twenty, first as a poet, several of her poems appearing in poetry magazines, then as a fiction-writer. She took an M Litt in Creative Writing at St Andrew's University and stayed on
More about Sarah Hall...

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“You’ve been wondering lately when the moment is that somebody is truly lost to you.” 17 likes
“Of all the conditions we experience, solitude is perhaps the most misunderstood.” 15 likes
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