Wednesday, January 17

The Crimson Portrait by Jody Shields

Review by Theodore Feit 
 

Detail piled on detail characterizes this unusual story set in England during World War I.  When Catherine's husband Charles leaves to join his regiment in France he stipulates that their mansion and estate be used as a military hospital.  The transformation in the home and Catherine's life is momentous, soon made even more so with the news that Charles has been killed at the front.

 

A hospital for surgery on soldiers with grotesquely wounded or destroyed faces is established. At the time, little is known about the procedures for reconstructing destroyed faces.  The surgeons improvise and pioneer many new methods.   Meanwhile an artist is transferred from the front to assist the surgeons in their efforts.

 

One of the artist's tasks is to make a mask for one patient to hide his face, since further surgery is not considered possible.  He bears some resemblance to Charles, and Catherine in an effort to bring her husband back substitutes his photograph for that of the patient.

 

The novel explores the medical staff's difficulties, along with the psychological traumas of the wounded, as well as Catherine's attempt to create a loving relationship.  It is a deep study of human nature and individual identity.  It is well-written and the characters are excellently drawn, as nature takes its course.

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