Didn’t you think this was a little too predictable? It was a nicely told tale, skillfully using archaic language and syntax, as if Barnes channeled Jonathan Swift or some other writer of a much earlier time, it wasn’t hard to see what was going to happen or why, and I can’t say that I cared much. The limner, or illustrator, is a deaf man nearing his retirement. He is alone in life because he travels constantly to earn his keep but also because he would not want children who might inherit his hearing defect. Never mind that his hearing loss was the result of a childhood illness. The limner is a loner. Except for his horse. In any case, he arrives in a village and acquires a commission from Tuttle, the argumentative customs collector, who wants a portrait that gives him suitable dignity. He isn’t satisfied, and he’s rude about it. (Communication is through a notebook that Wadsworth the limner carries with him.) Furthermore, the limner does a sketch of a houseboy and Tuttle, proving that he’s the bad guy, destroys it. So both of these characters are on the one-dimensional side, it seems to me, and that might be the stories biggest problem. In the end, Tuttle stiffs Wadsworth, but Wadsworth gets revenge. A little too neat.
This one won’t be around when we get to the playoffs in December.
January 5, 2009: “The Limner” by Julian Barnes