John Banville, the Man Booker Prize–winning author of The Sea and Ancient Light, now gives us a new novel—at once trenchant, witty, and shattering—about the intricacies of artistic creation, about theft, and about the ways in which we learn to possess one another, and to hold on to ourselves.
Equally self-aggrandizing and self-deprecating, our narrator, Oliver Otway Orme (“O O O. An absurdity. You could hang me over the door of a pawnshop”), is a painter of some renown and a petty thief who has never before been caught and steals only for pleasure. Both art and the art of thievery have been part of his “endless effort at possession,” but now he’s pushing fifty, feels like a hundred, and things have not been going so well. Having recognized the “man-killing crevasse” that exists between what he sees and any representation he might make of it, he has stopped painting. And his last act of thievery—the last time he felt its “secret shiver of bliss”—has been discovered. The fact that the purloined possession was the wife of the man who was, perhaps, his best friend has compelled him to run away—from his mistress, his home, his wife; from whatever remains of his impulse to paint; and from a tragedy that has long haunted him—and to sequester himself in the house where he was born. Trying to uncover in himself the answer to how and why things have turned out as they have, excavating memories of family, of places he has called home, and of the way he has apprehended the world around him (“one of my eyes is forever turning towards the world beyond”), Olly reveals the very essence of a man who, in some way, has always been waiting to be rescued from himself.
“Beautiful . . . Just as in Proust or Nabakov, past events are refracted through a glittering verbal artifice that partially redeems painful memories . . . [Banville’s] eloquence draws you into another world . . . a powerful drama . . . ingenious and moving . . . This engrossing and often beautiful novel is a true work of art that rewards careful reading.”
—Sameer Rahim, The Daily Telegraph
“Banville, the Nabakov of contemporary lit, can turn even a straightforward comeuppance tale into breathtaking literary art. It’s often the smallest moments in Banville’s elegant prose that stop readers dead in their tracks with flashes of visionary transformations. . . . At times, Banville’s prose seems drunk with the sheer joy of describing a vibrantly strange world in perfectly knit sentences. At others, it reads like melancholy poetry. . . . Readers will find Olly so unexpectedly worth of redemption, despite his many flaws.”
—Doug Childers, Richmond Times-Dispatch
“The Blue Guitar is arguably the funniest and most accessible of Banville’s many novels . . . beautiful, heartbreaking.”
—Jon Michaud, The Washington Post
“Eloquent . . . Oliver has some of the wry comic haplessness of a Beckett character . . . enveloping.”
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“Banville’s narrative is spattered with spoken and unspoken allusions: to Keats, Dylan Thomas, Botticelli, Coleridge, Washington Irvine, Bonnard, Courbet, Keats, again . . . strong in atmosphere . . . luminous.”
—Patricia Craig, The Independent
“The cumulative effect of [The Blue Guitar] —the opening ludic exuberance, the subsequent steady softening, the sheer force of Banville’s reflections on grief and loss—is moving, entertaining, edifying and affirmative. The Blue Guitar is a remarkable achievement: the work of a writer who knows not only about pain and eloquence, but about the consolations of learning how to think, to look and to listen.”
—Matthew Adams, The National
“A self absorbed painter conducting a seedy affair is made compelling by this Irish master’s matchless prose . . . [Banville] holds you with his glittering eye—or pen—in a way that would not disgrace Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner. . . . With Banville, what enraptures—always—is the writing itself. He holds words up to the light as carefully as any watchmaker or poet, and . . . he is more than usually alive to what each word is doing, it’s precise reverberation. . . . He shows himself, once again, as one of contemporary literature’s finest and most expert witnesses.”
—Kate Kellaway, The Guardian
“Readers will hang on to every word . . . Banville is such a fine architect of sentences—infusing them with wit and yearning . . . Bon mots fill these pages, every one essential.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Artful . . . Offering familiar Banville themes of memory and regret. Still, there is constant humor, of the sly variety for which the author is well-known, and something more . . . elements of Stella Gibbons and P.G. Wodehouse. Then there’s the sheer pleasure of the writing. Banville delights in descriptions of people and nature, and here he has the added excuse of writing through a painter’s gifted eye. . . . In the hands of this gifted Irish writer, even a potbellied, melancholic petty thief and Lothario offers countless delights.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Self-depreciating and funny . . . Banville, with this narrator who is messily making it up as he goes along, who is writing a dodgy first draft in front of our eyes, seems at once to be having fun and to be utterly serious. Serious about the demolition work at the heart of this novel, a taking-down of the business of writing a novel, all those strivings, strainings, fakings and foreshortenings—and all the ridiculousness of alliteration-for-effect, with a rake of unlikely character and place names which seem right out of a sinister sort of nursery rhyme—all the artifice that the reader pretends not to see as such, all of the impulses and indulgences (stop alliterating!) with wich the writer expects to get away.”
—Belinda McKeon, The Irish Times
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