47. The Underpainter (Jane Urquhart)

After reading Away and and advanced reader copy of A Number of Things written to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial , I was thrilled to meet the fascinating Jane Urquhart at the Hamilton Public Library event. After the event, I was keen to read another one of her novels in which her love for the rugged shores of Canada and for history shine through the words on the page.

The Underpainter is the story of an artist who was able to paint the beauty around him yet struggled to appreciate the beauty and find happiness in his own life.  In his seventh decade, he is reflecting back on his life including his childhood spent with his eccentric mother sharing walks and visiting graveyards before her untimely death.  He considers the emotional spareness of his father and his teen and young adult years spending time on the Ontario side of Lake Superior after his father discovered the lucrative mines.  He met interesting friends including the young man, turned soldier and then veteran who returned broken yet painted intricate pictures on fine china.  He tried to understand his friend and support him by listening to his partner who had been hospitalized on her return from nursing the injured soldiers.  He pondered the relationship he had with his mistress whom he had visited, painted and exploited each summer, using her and then returning to his regular life each fall.

His reflections and stories slowly tell the tales of each of the characters and how they impacted his life as he covers over the underpaintings with new colour, new feelings and fresh paint.  The story is beautifully written, slowly savoured and would be perfect read at lakeside retreat!

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