Five Photos of My WifeAuthor: Agnes Desarthe
Featured in the January, 2002 magazine
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At 80, Max Opass is still reeling from the death of his wife a year earlier. His two grown-up children live abroad with their own families, his son in Bolivia, his daughter in Japan: he writes awkwardly to his daughter with the news of his humdrum activities and tells her that he's decided to have his wife's portrait committed to paper or canvas, permanently and posthumously. So, he looks up 'Artists' in the Yellow Pages, picks a few for arbitrary reasons, and calls them up. He asks each if they will paint a portrait of his wife, using his five favourite photographs of her for their sole visual reference. One artist - successful and modish - intimidates him; another - an amateur raising kids by herself - prompts him to pity; a pair of art students baffle him; and a bridge-playing acquaintance turns out to have elderly hots for him. Each encounter, each portrait, is both comic and moving, like Max. As these accumulate, the reader comes to realise that Max's grasp on who his wife really was is not so sure after all. Nor indeed is he a star of self-knowledge. Through a sequence of droll confrontations, his and our understanding expand, and by the end of the book he finds his priorities and intentions have altered utterly. And the reader is brought, quietly and slyly, to an appreciation of loss, memory, love and the uselessness of false images.
This a very quietly told tale, unassuming and modest, yet written with great sensitivity to the issues of ageing, loss, memory and loneliness.
Review by: Caroline Baum