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Book Review

The Underpainter by Jane Urquhart

Discussion rating 4/5


Book Synopsis

In his youth, a self-centered painter learns that he must suppress emotions to paint. Meticulously following his beloved teacher's theory, he moves through life objectively studying the people with whom he superficially interacts. But the American painter becomes haunted by passionate memories of people who touched his empty life. His work ranges from painting people to painting detailed landscape that he then hides with an overcoat of paint. It is an act of casting off his despair and anesthetizing the hurtful memories. In his old age, Austin Fraser becomes a lonely old man stubbornly piecing a broken china set together as an atonement for blindly ruining his best friend's life.


Comments ranged from a passive book to an exquisite examination of a human character.

Fraser epitomizes the coldness of art. The group couldn't pinpoint an episode in his life that would make him so cold, superficial, withdrawn, and hurtful to others. His life did not yield a tragedy to explain the barriers he maintained. His character also appeared to represent our society's stereotype of how males should behave. Even with all his negative traits, the group found that he was still likable for some strange reason.

The group discussed the significance of his three passionate outbursts when as a youth he engages in a chin-up competition, when a good friend pinpoints what his paintings lacked, and when he surprises a winter-stricken deer.

The group was mystified that Sara, his love interest and model, would suffer through 15 years of his self-centredness, superficiality and fear of emotional attachment.

It was also amazing how little he knew of George, especially the tumultuous events in his best friend's life. Nor did his friend even desire to discuss his life with Fraser.

The book was also informative of the different ways to look at art.


An extensive bibliography by Northwest Passages
Review by Ann Skea

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