Summary and book reviews of The Blue Guitar by John Banville

The Blue Guitar

by John Banville

The Blue Guitar by John Banville
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2015, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2016, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
James Broderick

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

The Blue Guitar



"Things as they are


Are changed upon the blue guitar"



—wallace stevens



i



Call me autolycus. Well, no, don't. Although I am, like that unfunny clown, a picker-up of unconsidered trifles. Which is a fancy way of saying I steal things. Always did, as far back as I can remember. I may fairly claim to have been a child prodigy in the fine art of thieving. This is my shameful secret, one of my shameful secrets, of which, however, I am not as ashamed as I should be. I do not steal for profit. The objects, the artefacts, that I purloin—there is a nice word, prim and pursed—are of scant value for the most part. Oftentimes their owners don't even miss them. This upsets me, puts me in a dither. I won't say I want to be caught, but I do want the loss to be registered; it's important that it should be. Important to me, I mean, and to the weight and legitimacy of the—how shall I say? The exploit. The endeavour. The deed. I ask ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction
Oliver Otway Orme—a man equally self-aggrandizing and self-deprecating—is a painter of some renown, and a petty thief who has never been caught . . . until now. Unfortunately, the purloined possession in question is the wife of the man who was, perhaps, his best friend. Fearing the consequences, Ollie has fled—not only from his mistress, his home, and his wife, but from the very impulse to paint, and from his own demons. He sequesters himself in the house where he was born, and thus, he sets about trying to uncover the answer to how and why things have turned out as they did. A witty and trenchant novel about artistic creation and the ways in which we learn to possess one another—and ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Banville, a prolific and critically regarded Irish novelist whose previous works have won some of the most prestigious literary awards, is a mesmerizing prose stylist, and that's where he triumphs here. His looping, loopy sentences and his bracing and byzantine gift for turning a phrase provide The Blue Guitar with pretty much all of its satisfactions. Readers who have difficulty warming up to the somewhat cynical and even smug tone of the narrator might find the book a challenge, as the only perspective the reader is provided is the flippantly barbed worldview of the emotionally absent Ollie. But how can one completely resist a narrator who thinks of the rain "whispering against the window-panes with stealthy, lewd suggestiveness," or the waves that are "topped with soiled white spray and their deeply scooped, smooth undersides had a glassy and malignant shine"?   (Reviewed by James Broderick).

Full Review (825 words).

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Media Reviews

The Wall Street Journal

Eloquent . . . Oliver has some of the wry comic haplessness of a Beckett character . . . enveloping.

Richmond Times-Dispatch

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

The Washington Post

The Blue Guitar is arguably the funniest and most accessible of Banville’s many novels . . . beautiful, heartbreaking.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Readers will hang on to every word written by Man Booker Prize winner Banville (Ancient Light), because he knows their thoughts before they do.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Artful ... In the hands of this gifted Irish writer, even a potbellied, melancholic petty thief and Lothario offers countless delights.

The Daily Telegraph (UK)

Beautiful . . . a powerful drama . . . ingenious and moving . . . This engrossing and often beautiful novel is a true work of art that rewards careful reading.

The Independent (UK)

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

The Guardian (UK)

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.

The Irish Times

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.

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Beyond the Book

The Man With the Blue Guitar: A Poem

It is not uncommon for a novelist to choose a title for a book from another work of art, such as a line from a song (You Must Remember This, by Joyce Carol Oates) or a painting (Girl With A Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier). The title of John Banville's novel The Blue Guitar comes from a Wallace Stevens poem entitled "The Man with the Blue Guitar." He even uses a quote from the poem as an epigraph to the novel: "Things as they are/Are changed upon the blue guitar." (More about Wallace Stevens in our 'Beyond the Book' for Thirteen Ways of Looking)

The Old Guitarist, a painting by Picasso Stevens' poem, one of his best known and critically lauded works, is itself inspired by another famous work of art, a painting by Pablo Picasso titled The Old Guitarist. The painting, ...

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