"a narrow, vertical painting, tightly enclosing the scene. Her pale arm and her pale thigh. Viewed at a diagonal through an exceedingly tall doorway ... just a glimpse of something ...
"An ageing portrait artist meets a woman who unsettles him, yet inspires him to paint her. Reluctantly, at first, they are drawn together.
"The ambiguity of the relationship between painter and subject is revealed through Alex Miller's subtle, sensuous narrative. The artist must watch and wait to trap the shy beast. For the skil of portraiture is in seeing beyond the face, beyond the likeness."
When I was old and could no longer hope for new friendships, one of the saddest episodes of my life began to come back to me and to offer me my greatest joy. Under the influence of this memory, revisiting me in its new disguise, I was able to paint again. For the gift had left me. I don't believe I'll ever suffer such a paralysis of my will again. Now I'll go on painting until the end. Which must be the hope of every artist. Simply to work.
And that is what she gave me, Jessica Keal, the subject of this altered memory, a memory entangled with certain family likenesses and forgotten moments of my childhood; her roots and mine mysteriously grown together. That entire episode is contained for me in a single image. And although there's only one figure in this image - for it's my portrait of Jessica that I'm talking about - it's an image in which I'm content, for once, to recognise myself. As I remember her, I remember myself and am able to approach the last enigma of my life - my family and my childhood. That cold legacy of silence and absence.
From the Viking paperback edition, 1995.
This novel was shortlisted for the 1996 Miles Franklin Award.
This page and its contents are copyright © 2001-04 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Alex Miller Page.
Last modified: December 15, 2004.