notes on dutch literature

Narrated by a canvas

In Books that need to be reprinted on November 3, 2012 at 2:41 PM

The Portrait - Willem Jan Otten

“If you, like me, come into the world white and completely blank, with nothing on you at all, you are totally dependent on what they make of you.”

The Portrait is a short and beautiful novel from one of Holland’s most talented writers Willem Jan Otten. Reminiscent of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey – a novel narrated by a canvas, an extraordinary eye-witness and participant in an incredible story.

A young painter, loved for his fine and true-to-life portraits, receives a commission that is unlike any he’s had before: make a portrait of a dead boy. ‘You will save a life with it’ says the boy’s extremely rich father. The painter knows he will have to surpass himself. He takes on the job. Who was the boy? Why is he dead? Why, when the painting is finished, does the father not come to collect it? And why is the painter actually making this painting?

The portrait is an extraordinary and thrilling novel about the desire to bring someone into the world. It is also about love and death, betrayal and trust, truth and falsehood, lies and honesty. Otten, with all the story-telling talent he has at his disposal, plays with secrets and riddles that the reader can only unravel at the very end. Ten years after his last novel (Nothing wrong with us) Otten once again shows that he can write an ingenious, contemporary and truly gripping novel in a much shorter space than many of his peers.

It was first published in Dutch as Specht en Zoon in 2005 and  after it won the prestigious Libris Literary Award in 2006, the novel was translated in German, Italian, Swedisch, Romanian and even Korean. In 2009 it was translated in English by David Colmer and published in Australia. Unfortunately it’s currently nowhere to be found, which is a shame.

Foreign rights are represented by The Susijn Agency in London, United Kingdom.


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