The Portrait follows the journey of Pierre-François Chaumont, a married Parisian attorney. As a boy, Pierre is influenced by his uncle to become a collector of objects. He begins with scented erasers, but quickly raises the level of sophistication and moves on to antiques. By the time the reader finds Pierre in present day, his collection is massive and a point of contention between him and his wife. It is his latest purchase, a portrait of a man, which really puts their marriage on shaky ground. As a result of a heated auction bid, Pierre pays way too much for the piece, but he has to have it because he believes the man in the portrait looks identical to him. No one else sees the resemblance, however, and this pushes him into an obsessive search, devoting all his time to researching the origins of the painting. His discoveries reveal secret histories, life-altering opportunities, and lead to his happily ever after.
Pierre-François follows the same path as the protagonists in all of Laurain’s other books -- after happenstance brings a protagonist in contact with an object of desire, they commit a small indiscretion, like a lie or petty theft, which puts them on a path to big change and a happy conclusion. Despite the formulaic framework, Laurain’s charm, imagination, and attention to character make up for any predictability; however, The Portrait is not one of my favorites. It has a darker tone than his other novels, and as the story progressed, I found myself liking Pierre-François less and less. Although all of the author’s characters have flaws, they redeem themselves in some way, but Pierre is just kind of a self-centered jerk. It is still worth reading, but if you have never read any Antoine Laurain, I recommend starting with The Red Notebook.