Specht and Son
A painting as narrator
In Willem Jan Otten’s new novel Specht and Son the canvas tells the story rather than the young painter Felix Vincent who has accepted a bizarre commission. On the very first page the canvas, ‘10 1 . 2 oz. linen preprimed’, measuring 120 x 200 cm, wonders: ‘How on earth can a mere canvas covered with paint be tragic?’ The story that follows answers this question. The canvas witnesses Vincent, called ‘Creator’, being asked by the fabulously wealthy art collector Specht to paint his adopted son Singer. So far nothing special. But there is a catch: Singer is no longer alive. ‘Paint my son,’ says Specht to Creator. ‘Make him alive. Forget his death.’
Creator accepts the offer, even after Specht has made the unusual demand that no one is to know about the commission and ‘not a soul’ is to see the canvas. Once completed, the painting of the dead Singer – a reclining nude – is a masterpiece, and it exerts a mysterious attraction.
The canvas drives Creator to sinister thoughts about what role Specht, a well-known homosexual, may have played in Singer’s death. In addition, the canvas drives him in a sinister way to commit adultery right when Lidewijde, his own wife, is pregnant, apparently by having glanced disobediently at the canvas.
Specht and Son is a story about incarnation, the creation of life from death, and about belief in human knowledge and ignorance. The novel is filled with allusions to the book of Genesis and the New Testament. When Specht asks when the painting will be finished, Creator answers: ‘At Easter.’ However this is not a religious novel but a novel about religion. Willem Jan Otten has sensitively put his subject matter into an ingenious, unique, and exciting story full of unexpected twists and turns.