The Blue Guitar

Knopf. Sept. 2015. 272p. ISBN 9780385354264. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385354271. F
"They would all see what I saw, but not as I did, with my eyes, from my particular angle, in my own way that is as feeble and imperceptive as everyone else's but that is mine." So says Oliver Orme, the famous painter, now stilled, at the center of a new work from Man Booker Prize winner Banville that aims to capture the specificity of our experience—and, particularly, the artist's transformative vision. Unappealingly short, stout, and nearly 50, with a moody and self-indulgent streak, Oliver is a poor, strutting hero in his own story and a thief besides—he snatches small things perhaps for the same reason he paints: to manage the world. Except now he readily acknowledges "the man-killing crevasse" between what's there and how it's seen in his mind, the real picture he wants to paint and now can't. But he's still thieving, this time taking friend Marcus's wife, Polly, which leads to much groaning and "puny catastrophe" even as we get an outline of Oliver's life from weaselly childhood to the death of his daughter, a tragedy he doesn't seem able to touch.
VERDICT What the reader gets: Banville's always gorgeous writing (though sometimes a bit arch), a fascinating sense of how creative sorts do and don't work (more of that would have been welcome), and the account of the sort of banal affair we've seen before. [See Prepub Alert, 3/16/15.]
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