The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
Oliver Orme, the middle-aged protagonist of The Blue Guitar is a commercially successful painter who has lost his inspiration and whose emotional life is disintegrating before his eyes. A self-obsessed pedant whose secret pleasure involves stealing small objects from everyone around him, Orme is the embodiment of the artistic process.
The trouble is that this does not necessarily make for a particularly engaging character. Orme is constantly the spectator of the world around him, obsessed with surfaces, possessed by a longing for authenticity, struggling to express the essence of what he sees, tormented by his own emotional fastidiousness.
It is easy to recognise aspects of oneself in Orme, but very difficult to like him in the round. That's not surprising since even he struggles to understand himself as a complete human being:
'the I I think of, that upright, steadfast candle-flame burning perpetually within me, is a will-o'-the-wisp, a fatuous fire. What is left of me then, is little more than a succession of poses, a concatenation of attitudes.'
This is fiction about fiction, full of allusions and constantly reflecting back upon itself. As in all Banville's novels, there are layers and layers of precise observation and wonderfully accomplished writing but at the end of all the unwrapping there is precious little real storytelling in the parcel.