Belfryful of Bells

Theo Tait

  • The Blue Guitar by John Banville
    Viking, 250 pp, £14.99, September 2015, ISBN 978 0 241 00432 6

‘Have I said that before?’ the narrator of The Blue Guitar asks towards the end of the novel. ‘Nowadays it all feels like repetition.’ At this point in John Banville’s distinguished career it’s hard to ignore a sense that old ground is being worked over, again and again. It’s a safe bet that a new Banville novel will feature a male narrator, in late middle age, isolated, reliably unreliable, absorbed in himself and in the past. He will probably be somewhere in down-at-heel provincial Ireland – often a place connected with his childhood – and seeking refuge from a private life in an advanced state of collapse. There will be a recent catastrophe to contend with, maybe death or disgrace, as well as some underlying issue from a long way back: a childhood trauma, or perhaps a harder-to-pin-down feeling that, at some point, he has done something dreadful. He will be an art historian or an actor or a philosopher – something, anyway, that gives him an aesthetician’s eye and access to a fancy prose style: dandified, exclamatory, allusive, digressive, heavy on the puns. He will suffer from what this novel calls a ‘lack of ordinary human sentiment’. The ratio of reverie to dramatic incident will be unusually high, though there may well be a sudden flurry of events near the end.

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