The Death of Francis Bacon (Faber 2021) is the third work of the talented writer Max Porter, author of Lanny, and Grief is the Thing with Feathers, both of which I loved (and both a mixture of prose and poetry).
This offering is more formally a work of poetry – ‘A great painter lies on his deathbed. Max Porter translates into seven extraordinary written pictures the explosive final workings of the artist’s mind.’ This highly literary work depicts the painter’s last days in a Spanish hospice where he is cared for by a nun, as his illness sets in and his mind relives the motivations behind his last great works.
While this book is beautifully written with gorgeous language, I found that because I didn’t know much about Francis Bacon, it did not really resonate with me. I had to keep googling his last paintings to parse the poet’s references to Bacon’s work, and that had the effect of pulling me out of the rhythm of this collection. If you are an artist or a poet, or if you are particularly familiar with Bacon’s oeuvre and his individual canvasses, then I’m sure this book will have more appeal. I know that if I could have pictured the paintings in my mind the whole time I was reading about his meditations on them, that would have made a huge difference to my connection to the writing. So whilst I can appreciate the quality of the language, the subject matter itself did not resonate with me.