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The Man in the Picture

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An extraordinary ghost story from a modern master. In the apartment of Oliver's old professor at Cambridge, there is a painting on the wall, a mysterious depiction of masked revelers at the Venice carnival. On this cold winter's night, the old professor has decided to reveal the painting's eerie secret. The dark art of the Venetian scene, instead of imitating life, has the power to entrap it. To stare into the painting is to play dangerously with the unseen demons it hides, and become the victim of its macabre beauty.

145 pages, Hardcover

First published October 11, 2007

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About the author

Susan Hill

190 books1,999 followers
Susan Hill was born in Scarborough, North Yorkshire in 1942. Her hometown was later referred to in her novel A Change for the Better (1969) and some short stories especially "Cockles and Mussels".

She attended Scarborough Convent School, where she became interested in theatre and literature. Her family left Scarborough in 1958 and moved to Coventry where her father worked in car and aircraft factories. Hill states that she attended a girls’ grammar school, Barr's Hill. Her fellow pupils included Jennifer Page, the first Chief Executive of the Millennium Dome. At Barrs Hill she took A levels in English, French, History and Latin, proceeding to an English degree at King's College London. By this time she had already written her first novel, The Enclosure which was published by Hutchinson in her first year at university. The novel was criticised by The Daily Mail for its sexual content, with the suggestion that writing in this style was unsuitable for a "schoolgirl".

Her next novel Gentleman and Ladies was published in 1968. This was followed in quick succession by A Change for the Better, I'm the King of the Castle, The Albatross and other stories, Strange Meeting, The Bird of Night, A Bit of Singing and Dancing and In the Springtime of Year, all written and published between 1968 and 1974.

In 1975 she married Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells and they moved to Stratford upon Avon. Their first daughter, Jessica, was born in 1977 and their second daughter, Clemency, was born in 1985. Hill has recently founded her own publishing company, Long Barn Books, which has published one work of fiction per year.

Librarian's Note: There is more than one author by this name.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 707 reviews
Profile Image for Bionic Jean.
1,227 reviews1,059 followers
January 2, 2023
The Man in the Picture, by Susan Hill, is a very enjoyable read on a dark winter's evening. It has echoes of earlier English ghost stories, some of which can't quite be grasped. The setting and feel created is reminiscent of M.R. James and Daphne du Maurier. The story is set in College rooms (although the university here is Cambridge, rather than M.R. James's Oxford) as well as London, and also an old country house in a remote part of the North. We have one of M.R. James's favourite devices - a story narrated by one character to another; a story within a story. We have events which are reported to have taken place in the distant past. We have rumour and suspicion. We have suspense created by breaks in the story as "real life" interferes. But most of all we have atmosphere. As the author herself says,

"What makes a good ghost story? Atmosphere. How do you create atmosphere? By working yourself into it imaginatively until you are there - you can see, hear, sense and even smell your atmosphere."

Have you read "The Picture of Dorian Gray"? Have you ever been in a room where you feel the eyes of a person in a portrait follow you round the room? Well those sinister sorts of feelings are conjured up by this novel, and one of the characters is straight out of a gothic romance. It is a chilling and horrific story of revenge.

As the title suggests, this is a tale of a painting, and one of the people it it. The painting is a complex and detailed view of Venice at Carnival time, when the people wear masks. The masks are intended to disguise people's identity, but this story develops into a haunting spine-chiller. The reader learns of the painting's history, and its future, its transmogrification, and why it becomes the most important thing in the life of anyone who owns it.

There are few new ideas in this story, but the whole is very satisfactorily woven together. Susan Hill is an English author of fiction, short stories and some factual books. She achieved literary success at an early age, publishing her first novel at 19, whilst in her first year at university. Her books cover a wide range of themes, and four have won major literary awards. She also writes the very popular "Simon Serrailler" series of crime novels. She has always had a leaning towards the gothic, and in 1983 wrote "The Woman in Black". Latterly she has also taken to writing an annual Christmas ghost story; this one is from 2007. These very accomplished novellas are also more geared toward the popular market, as she says,

"I love writing ghost stories, though I confess I don't take them too seriously, and I love reading them, too. I have learnt that there's no room for padding, for no superfluous words. Less is always more."

"I like to work my way gradually to the frightening heart of a ghost story, lull the reader into a sense of security before letting them become aware of the screw and, a little later, beginning to turn it."
Profile Image for Delee.
243 reviews1,106 followers
April 17, 2020
I picked up this little gem of a novella about 2 years ago- for $16.50 (if you ever see how small it is you will get just how ridiculous that is)...but it was just so beautiful I couldn't seem to walk away from it. I eventually brought it home, and every so often I would pick it up, and then put it down- thinking- "no, it's not the right time."

This is one of those books that begs to be read on a dark stormy night...

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On a cold winter's night, Oliver visits his old Cambridge college professor- Theo Parmitter. Theo has a secret he needs to tell. The secret involves a painting that Parmitter acquired when he was a young man. The painting of a Venetian carnival by an unknown artist, that seems to have the power to destroy those who cross its path.

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THE MAN IN THE PICTURE is very short- only 145 pages. A perfect, creepy and atmospheric little ghost story for this time of year.
Profile Image for Brenda.
4,093 reviews2,662 followers
February 7, 2017
As a long ago student of Professor Theo Parmitter, Oliver had taken to visiting his old friend in his apartment at Cambridge whenever he was in town. On this particular visit, Theo decided he wanted to tell Oliver the story of the old Venetian painting which was on his wall and had been in his possession for decades. The painting was an eerie and mysterious vision of revellers at a carnival, many of them wearing masks. The story Theo told and the events which had occurred caused profound unease in Oliver…but worse was to come.

Unease and a deep sense of foreboding travelled through each and every person who had a story to tell about the Venetian painting – there was a power attached to it; an evil presence…

I don’t read horror as a rule, but needed one for a challenge I was doing. So when I discovered The Man in the Picture buried deep in the recesses of books forgotten, and knowing I’d read a Susan Hill before, I thought it would be perfect for the category needed. And it was! Creepy, eerie and sinister – author Susan Hill knows how to make her readers shudder. Recommended for fans of horror and the paranormal.
Profile Image for Maciek.
562 reviews3,312 followers
January 6, 2014
The Man in the Picture is a short story which was somehow published as a separate book. Even shorter than The Woman in Black, the story - although well written - is similarly unoriginal and largely forgettable.

The picture in question is described by the main narrator, Oliver, who himself retells a story told to him by his former university tutor. The tutor is fascinated and frightened by an oil painting from his collection: in its depiction of a Venetian carnival scene, he notices a barely noticeable man observing the festivities with horror and shock, apparently against his will. From Oliver's retelling we learn how the painting came into the tutor's possession, and how he afterwards met an elderly countess who wished to obtain it for her own collection; the tutor is unwilling to relinquish it, wishing to learn the identity of the man in the picture - and both he and Oliver will learn more than they both bargained for.

This is a story which could be told around a campfire, or in a cold winter common room at a English university decades ago, when there was no radio or television, and even books weren't as available as they are now. A seasoned teller could properly build up the atmosphere and sustain tension and dread all the way to the very end, when the listeners would depart and find themselves unable to sleep in their cold, creaking beds. This isn't the case here, as the story itself resembles more the bare bones of a greater effort than the effort itself. A foundation was laid, but the mansion remains unfinished - which is a shame. Susan Hill has all the potential and ability to write ghost stories in the classical way, but her writing needs more innovation and less inspiration to unnerve and chill this reader.

Profile Image for Blair.
1,764 reviews4,233 followers
August 7, 2014
I bought this on a whim and read it in one sitting, thinking it would be just the thing for a Sunday night while tucked up in bed. I really enjoyed it, but am in two minds about how to rate it. On one hand, it was exactly the sort of thing I love - an atmospheric, compelling ghost story with plenty of deliciously chilling details. The chief narrator, known only as Oliver, recounts a strange tale told to him by a former university tutor. It concerns an oil painting in the tutor's possession - depicting a carnival scene in Venice - which appears to have a haunting, even hypnotic power. The titular man in the picture is a particularly noticeable figure, apparently an unwilling participant in the festivities, staring out from the scene with an expression of horror and despair. Via the tutor's memories of his meeting with an elderly countess, we learn who this man is (or appears to be) and the truth of the picture's terrible secret. The tutor's story isn't told all in one go - which is a effective device, as it allows for a break in which Oliver, seriously spooked, returns to his own lodgings and finds himself in the grip of terror. This was my favourite scene in the story and really helped to create an atmosphere of mounting pressure and suspense.

But, on the other hand... I can understand this originally being released as a self-contained miniature book (apparently it was first published at Halloween) but I did nevertheless expect it to have more substance. I only paid a few pounds for it, but then, you can buy sizeable novels for Kindle at the same kind of price. As with The Woman in Black, I found myself wishing I could buy a compilation of Hill's ghost stories instead. The problem with reading what is essentially a short story in isolation is that after finishing, I began to feel unsatisfied and to question things about the plot, whereas had it been part of a collection, I don't think these thoughts would have occurred to me. There's no explanation of how the picture comes to acquire its power, what happens to those who are consumed by it or - crucially - how the mysterious Clarissa develops the ability to extract her revenge through it. I was hoping to be left unnerved by the tale but it didn't feel complete, and could have been fleshed out so much more.
Profile Image for Mark.
393 reviews307 followers
January 6, 2014
Wonderful, scary, horrendously sinister and chilled me to the bone. After the supreme disappointment I had whilst reading 'The small hand' I think Susan Hill returns to, if not quite the top of her game that she reached in 'The woman in black', then certainly pootling around just below the summit.

This story is short and swift moving. Hints and nudges in the direction of something of horror lurking in the shadows is cleverly built up. A picture, which is I suppose a common device in ghost stories dominates as gradually character after character falls victim to its horrifying power. Indeed the whole reminded me of a number of the stories of MR James though this is not in anyway to take away from the brilliance of Hill's creation.

The picture brings a dreadful oppressive atmosphere to the whole story and its ability to some how imprison people within its very oil, to have the image change as each is taken, is horrible. And that horror lasts well after the denouement.

If you are looking for a ghost story to unnerve and unsettle and then build up to shivering and shaking, then this is definitely it. Though I would warn you, you might take to throwing out surreptitious and worried glances at that oil painting which your granny left you and you are now not so sure about. Definitely a Goodread.
Profile Image for James.
425 reviews
June 29, 2020
Susan Hills' The Man in The Picture' (2007) - is on the one hand a safe, somewhat predictable, almost pedestrian, contemporary take on the Edwardian/Victorian ghost story - that Hill has so successfully done so many times before ('The Woman in Black' et al).

But, all of that notwithstanding ... this is the kind of story that Hill tells so very well and to such great effect.

'The Man in The Picture' is a deeply satisfying and chilling page turner - this time in the almost perfect settings of Cambridge and Venice.

Not to be missed.
Profile Image for Malice.
261 reviews30 followers
September 12, 2022
Hay una historia en la película de Las brujas que se conecta con mis temores infantiles y la de una niña atrapada en una pintura. Este relato me recordó mucho a eso y creo que solo por eso me gustó.

Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,271 reviews555 followers
February 6, 2017
This was excellent, much more than the 3 star would imply. It's 3.5 stars. The reason I didn't go for 4, was because of the ending. Up until that portion of the last 3 pages, it was fully 4 stars.

Why? Because of the mood it set and the depth of the creepiness. The descriptive language and sinuous twisting grasp of malice that just entwined. Not only you, the reader, either.

For some reason the length of this novella heightened the effect, did not lessen it. It's a one sitting goose bumps and hair rising on your neck interlude. In fact, much later I had it pop into my head and that heaviness of dread returned immediately. Exactly as if you were being watched, knew it- and still have full cognition that it could not be true at the same time.

Slight spoiler ahead- but it certainly changes little of the plot.
What failed for me was that it became beyond macabre and into ridiculous when the final wife, Anne, wanted a Venetian honeymoon (after the new husband's hearing of the former long history and what he has witnessed). Come on! Pulls of the super normal or spell of the painting, those non-withstanding! Her husband would have opted for Paris and ditched the painting back to the old lady as soon as his old college prof.'s corpse was cold. The damn thing was laying on the floor anyway- who would have known? He would not have caved into a Venice for the gift of three separate country estates.

That kind of malice, depicted in this tale, does exist. Anger turned both inward and outward like a toddler who will hold its breath and pass out, when not getting his /her way in tantrum, as long as the agony of noise and chaos of continued curse spreads. Revenge and that angry outrage of "dissatisfaction" is poison, both to self and to others. When the poison is spread so widely, as in this story? Horror. Susan Hill could write -truly fixate that mood and malicious intent. Sublimely.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
939 reviews
March 23, 2016
A man visits his old professor at Cambridge, who tells him the strange story of a painting he owns. The book's narration becomes a story within a story within a story. The pace slowly builds, adding a feeling of dread throughout the plot. Fans of M. R. James and Algernon Blackwood will enjoy this weird tale. The writing style really makes me think of those two authors. An enjoyable old-fashioned horror story.
Profile Image for Zai.
782 reviews114 followers
April 28, 2023
Me ha gustado mucho este relato, con una ambientación muy gótica que te mantiene en vilo, toda la trama gira en torno a un cuadro en el cual se representa una escena del carnaval veneciano. Me ha gustado mucho el final.

La historia comienza cuando Oliver va a visitar a su viejo profesor Theo Parmitter, y éste decide contarle la historia del cuadro del carnaval veneciana y todo lo que sucede con él....
Profile Image for Encarni Prados.
1,049 reviews66 followers
June 29, 2020
Una historia bien contada y con un misterio por resolver, algo que crees que no es posible pero que pasa. Un relato muy victoriano, lleno de oscuridad, de los que a mí me gustan. Muy recomendable.
75 reviews1 follower
October 30, 2008
this was mediocre at best. It was a good idea, that of a picture that trapped people in itself but the internal logic was feeble and none of the characters ever came to life. OK, so the story is that a spurned woman uses this picture to take revenge on the man who would have married her and the woman he preferred. There is absolutely no explanation of how she obtained this picture or managed to interact with it to strike at, not only the original couple, but a later couple who have absolutely no connection with the original situation. She is supposedly just another upper-class young English girl, albeit wealthy and very beautiful, and this kind of operation isn't generally covered at the usual ladies academy. There is not even an effort to explain her access by means of exotic background, mysterious relative, or even any personal interest in archane and occult matters. The picture just arrives and the new wife feels forboding. Not only that, we are supposed to believe that this same woman is so beautiful that she managed to seduce the son of the original couple twenty years later. not so much.The story tries very hard to be ominous, but just managed to just be bleak-ish.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,589 reviews191 followers
December 3, 2016
This is a small book, and a quick read. The story is fairly enjoyable, though I did not find it scary.

I read the hardcover, which is physically small, while the cover's image conveys the sense of something dark and heavy.

This felt like a Victorian novel, from its language to the dark, broody imagery and to the evil portrait. I felt like much of the story took place at night, in dark rooms, gothic locations.

Profile Image for Gareth Is Haunted.
315 reviews34 followers
October 22, 2022
An average traditional ghost story told in a manner of older stories of M. R. James or even Shirley Jackson. I couldn't quite grasp the time this was set until later in the book due to the manner in which the story is told and the language used.
Overall an entertaining read but lacked any real tension or originality.
Profile Image for M.L. Rayner.
Author 3 books153 followers
January 7, 2021
Another Great Ghost story from the UK's queen of horror.
Short and sweet.... not to mention creepy.
Profile Image for Violeta.
227 reviews21 followers
October 27, 2022
Estuvo chido el libro, fue como una pesadilla pintoresca jaja

Lo único que no me gustó es que conformaban con la situación y no vi a nadie intentar revertir la situación, lo que les había pasado, sólo lo dejaban ser y ya....

fue lo único que me estresó, de ahí en fuera la lectura es buena.
Profile Image for Tana 🌻 Cozyreadings.
407 reviews88 followers
December 6, 2020

I was pleasantly surprised by this one! I have read two Susan Hill books before and thought they were okay. This one however, I was completely engrossed in the story. It's very short (like her other creepy stories) and I read this very quickly in one sitting. This is my favorite Susan Hill by far! I got this from the library, but wouldn't mind getting myself a copy because I feel like this is a book I would reread.
Profile Image for Jesus Flores.
2,004 reviews38 followers
October 3, 2022
Man in the Picture

Es un tanto extraño, al principio el libro lleva un ritmo y desarrollo, que de repente cambia con la historia de la condesa, aun así, logra generarte una atmosfera creepy, esa sensación de que esta por suceder algo malo
Realmente siente esa mal vibra detrás de la pintura.

El final, mm, no se que pensar, pero aun así se disfruta.
Buena historia corta de terror
Y que odiable es el Dr. Parminter

3.87 stars
Profile Image for Dea.
48 reviews167 followers
October 16, 2022
I appreciate brevity - don't give me 300 pages when 145 tells the story perfectly. This was concise and focused, if obvious: there was no suspense and from start to finish, I felt like I'd read it before.
Profile Image for Jo Berry ☀️.
242 reviews5 followers
January 23, 2023
Not great. It’s an interesting outline for a story, but I’ve read things like this before (check out ‘The Ebony Frame’ by E. Nesbit or ‘A Picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde) so the idea isn’t original and it’s not well executed here either. It needed more editing and too much of the story is delivered in long, uninterrupted chunks which drained the life out of it.

I also had a lot of trouble pinning down when this story was meant to be set. At first I thought it was Edwardian, but then the mentions of a car, a light switch and a Bobby on the beat at night, made me think it was about 1930s. But then, the old man starts to tell his tale about going to visit a Countess when he was much younger, at a time there were still cars and light switches. Then, this roughly ninety year old Countess tells her tale from when she was a young bride of twenty and she used a handheld torch and she mentions reaching for light switches on the wall?! Then, in the final pages, there is a single mention of a mobile phone. So, this story actually starts in the noughties? But oddly, they all act as if the internet doesn’t exist. Or anything else belonging to the modern era. This story was published in 2007, but the story itself seems to be all over the place time-wise.

I’d recommend you don’t bother with this and read, ‘The Ebony Frame’ instead.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,177 reviews1,934 followers
October 7, 2012
An ok ghost/gothic story read in one sitting. Not in the same claas as The Woman in Blackbut easy to read with a few nice twists. The story basically involves an eighteenth century painting of Venice; a masque taking place by the Grand Canal with lots of figures in the picture, masked and unmasked. The basis of the story is that here in the twentieth century people end up in the picture and can be seen with a look of horror on their faces. It's all good spooky stuff. Oddly this is the second book this year I've read about a person ending up in a picture.
Wilson Harris's The Ghost of Memoryis a reflection on the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian shot on the tube in the aftermath of 7/7. That is magic realism rather than gothic horror. A strange coincidence I think. Yes, this is a shameless plug for Wilson Harris who is (in my opinion) very much underrated.
This one pretty much does what it says on the tin and Hill writes in a way that draws you in; bit like the picture!
Profile Image for Angela.
498 reviews34 followers
February 11, 2012
The Man In The Picture is another little gem in the collection of short novels bySusan Hill, written in the ghost/horror genre. This tells the story of Oliver, who, when visiting his old tutor, Theo Parmitter, hears the chilling tale behind the acquisition and possession of a painting. This painting depicts a carnival scene in Venice, but it is a very special painting, as Oliver learns, to his cost.
I enjoyed the style adopted by the author for the telling of this story. She seems to have stepped straight into the tradition of a previous generation of authors of ghost stories - nothing sensational, but slowly building the tension and sense of foreboding as the plot unfolded. The writing was deceptively simple - easy to read, but with few words, Susan Hill depicted scenes and emotions vividly, creating a chilling and atmospheric novel.
Profile Image for Louise.
1,647 reviews289 followers
March 13, 2013
The classic horror story images are here. Educated aristocratic narrators, a castle, a cold and boring dinner with an elderly heir along with the elements of aristocratic life: servants, Cambridge University, art appreciation and travel to Italy.

I generally feel that a lot of contemporary fiction would improve through a tighter text. It's unusual for me to say this, but here is one of the few works that could improve with a more expansive text.

The author has a good plot, but we really don't know the characters. They feel dread, fear and emotionally cringe at malevolent eyes, but the text doesn't have the reader feel what they feel. To empathize with the characters, you have to know them better. To do this the reader needs more introduction, more description... more text.

December 6, 2014
I'll admit that this one confused me a little which made me zone in and out every so often, so that would have affected my enjoyment. This was a short creepy read, quite original and well written but I didn't enjoy it as much as I did 'The Woman in Black'. I like a good scare but this just didn't give me the scare I was hoping for, no goosebumps and the story became too predictable towards the end. Perhaps due to it's short length it came across a little flat, however, considering how short it was it was an ok read.
Profile Image for Rosemary.
1,877 reviews78 followers
July 5, 2020
A short but complete horror story that had a very traditional feel to it - shades of M.R. James with the Cambridge setting and the story-within-a-story-within-a-story. A quick and enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Frank.
1,904 reviews21 followers
April 30, 2023
I have had this book on my shelves for several years and finally got around to reading this slight volume. I also read and enjoyed Hill's ghost story,Woman in Black a few years ago. THE MAN IN THE PICTURE is another ghost story that I enjoyed although not as much as Woman in Black. This one is told from several perspectives. It is about a college professor who obtains an unusual painting of revelers at a carnival in Venice. Oliver, a former student of the professor visits him and is told a macabre tale of a woman who owned the painting and how the painting seemed to draw people into it. Her story is told by her through Oliver. She desperately wanted the painting returned to her because it seemed to show what happened to her husband who disappeared in Venice. But how could that be? The painting was made in the 16th century. The tale goes on with the painting eventually affecting Oliver and his wife when they visit Venice on their honeymoon.

I thought the story was very atmospheric and provided some chills, however, the end was not quite what I was expecting. Overall, a mild recommendation for this one.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 707 reviews

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