In January 2008 I read The Sea by John Banville–I loved it and
put a star by the title in my book record. In November 2015 I
read The Blue Guitar, a new book, by John Banville . . .
and was disappointed. Banville is an Irish writer with many awards and a smooth
tongue when it comes to turning a phrase, but I didn’t recognize him here.
It’s the story of two couples—the ‘hero’ stealing his friend’s wife and the
results therof. (Is therof a word? spellcheck doesn’t think so)
Olly makes eyes for Polly. Did he consider this wording? Anyway, we are
treated to lots of mythical and classical references in his descriptions, with
a whiff of French phrases just to let us know he’s been around the block.
And there are some beautiful lines –when he is at a party and goes outside for a
“The silence out here rang thrillingly in the frosty air”
And describing his mother-in-law: “reminded me . . .of one of those figures
in a medieval clock-tower, biding there in the gloom, waiting for the ratchets
to engage and the mechanism to jerk into motion, so that she might be
trundled out to enjoy another of her quarter-hourly half-circuits in the light
of the world’s regard.”
But there is too much narration, not enough action. Don’t tell us, show us!
When in doubt for the next thread of the story, he describes what someone is
wearing. Dollars to donuts it will be a “wool jumper.”
At one point there are two maids in a house he is visiting, with–are you ready
for this? Red knuckles. Come ON! So trite.
One of my favorite parts is when Polly is sulking in a little room above her
“She sat for hours in a rocking-chair by the window, while the child played
on the floor at her feet.”
How many of you out there have had a child who would “play for hours”
quietly at your feet? Ha, ha, ha.
But what annoyed me most was when I would bump into a line or idea that
I’ve read somewhere else.
“Tell me, pale Ramon”———– Martha Grimes already used that poem at
the beginning of The End of the Pier to its best outing in my opinion.
And a childhood playmate had a glass eye—whose older brother had shot out
his eye with an air rifle in a game. Hm-m-m –if I hadn’t just read the incident in
Thurber’s biography, I might have let that go.
I’m going over the top here so I’ll stop.
The thing is, the book had a great premise—did I mention that Olly is a
small time thief, too? Did I mention that he is, or was, a painter? Seems
like we have good bones here-but the story just didn’t take off for me.
The words seemed forced. After a while I didn’t care about Polly or
anybody and reading was a matter of looking to see how many
pages yet to go.
And speaking of pages, in the LAST TEN PAGES about three life-changing
events occur–!!–talk about wrapping up the story. My sincere apologies to
John Banville. (Who am I to criticize John Banville?) I’ll just consider this
book a thorn among many roses.