Paul Watkins was born in 1964. He is the son of Welsh parents and was educated at the Dragon School, at Eton and at Yale. His novels include Night Over Day Over Night, Calm at Sunset, Calm at Dawn, In the Blue Light of African Dreams, The Promise of Night, Archangel, The Story of My Disappearance and The Forger. He has also written about his experiences at public school, in Stand Before Your God. He was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 1992 and 1996, and won the Winifred Holtby Prize for Best Regional Novel of the Year in 1996. He lives in the USA.
In the summer of 1939, David Halifax, a young American painter, receives a scholarship to study in Paris with the enigmatic Russian migr Pankratov. A decade earlier, Pankratov had burned all his own paintings in a fit of pique and refused to paint any more. Soon, France is at war and loses. With defeat, Nazi thugs descend on Paris, greedy for looted art. Pankratov persuades Halifax to join him in forging old masterpieces for sale; they exchange them for works by "degenerate" moderns and hide the originals from German depredation. Watkins (The Story of My Disappearance) has written a fine novel of character and setting, which is just as much about heroism as it is about art. Full-fleshed personalities, dramatically visual prose, and a strong narrative thrust make this novel a success; details about painting and forgery are an added bonus. Enthusiastically recommended.DDavid Keymer, California State Univ., Stanislaus Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Occupied Paris is the backdrop for Watkins's eighth novel (after The Story of My Disappearance), a suspenseful historical tale of shifting allegiances and uneasy alliances. Shortly before WWII, David Halifax, a young American painter, receives a mysterious scholarship to study in Paris with the eccentric genius Alexander Pankratov. Halifax supplements his scholarship income by selling his sketches through a charming and unscrupulous art dealer, Guillaume Fleury. When war is declared, the three are enlisted by the French government in an elaborate scheme to prevent classic works of art from falling into German hands. With Pankratov's help, Halifax forges Old Masters that Fleury in turn trades for Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces the Germans consider "degenerate," while the originals are hidden away in the French countryside. Halifax and his cronies must guard against discovery by the Germans and reprisals from the Resistance, who believe they are collaborators. Meanwhile, the only female character, an enigmatic nude model, plays a thankless role, tossed between her Nazi providers and the unreliable Pankratov. Halifax's wartime adventures end brutally, but the true denouement is a somewhat anticlimactic exercise in closure, set many years later. Halifax is a compelling narrator, and Watkins uses the psychology of the forger as a vehicle of inquiry into the nature of art and the creative process. The poisonous effects of war, occupation and constant fear are mirrored in the decline of the city and those trying to protect it. While Watkins's themes are familiar, they are deftly handled, the writer's painterly eye for detail matching that of his protagonist. Talented but a little emotionless, Watkins continues to produce solid, reliable literary novels, deviating little from that norm in his latest effort. Relegated to the limbo of midlist novelist, he could do with some dedicated handselling to recommend him to readers in search of quality writing and strong narrative drive. (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.