Patrick Mcguinness at Literary Review:
Julian Barnes’s new book immerses us in Belle Epoque Paris through the life of Samuel Pozzi, the sitter in John Singer Sargent’s famous portrait Dr Pozzi at Home. ‘Is it unfair to begin with the coat, rather than the man inside it?’ asks Barnes. ‘But the coat, or rather its depiction, is how we remember him today, if we remember him at all.’ Pozzi is an excellent choice of subject, because he is both straightforward and enigmatic, and because, though he knew everyone and turns up in numerous memoirs, letters and newspaper articles of the period, enough of his character remains just out of reach for Barnes to relish the challenge of imagining him.
This may be why the book’s cover stops just short of showing us Pozzi’s face. What we have instead is the shimmering red coat, tied at the waist, and the sitter’s delicate, long-fingered hands.