Imagined Lives, By John Banville et al


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The Independent Culture

A visit to an art gallery usually involves a brief encounter with a portrait of an unknown man or woman in period dress. No longer, dear reader, will you breeze past one without the fizzing memory of this book whose fiction is inspired by 14 such unknown sitters.

Its eight writers showcase the fine art of building a world, a spectrum of emotions and a host of characters in two short pages a piece.

Alexander McCall Smith sums up the perils for Mary Stuart's body double; Tracy Chevalier's sitter bears the secret of a tortuous homosexual passion; Terry Pratchett's seafaring adventurer presents his biggest discovery to the queen: a skunk.

Wit, love, vanity and melodrama fill the pages of this slim jewel of a stocking-filler.