Readers will be forgiven for thinking that there is a fair bit of John Banville himself in the washed-up artist Olly Orme, the protagonist of his latest novel, The Blue Guitar, which was recently published by Penguin/ Viking. So I put it to the man himself in the Morrison Hotel. “All my people are me, of course they are, who else could they be?” he replies. “He is hateful, though isn’t he? He is one of my most egregious monsters really. I think only the guy in Shroud,“ he muses, referring to the protagonist of his novel of that name, published back in 2002.
“What’s he called . . . . mad academic. . . . killed his wife, yeah, what’s his name....” then it hits him - “Axel Vander. Axel Vander is the only one who is worse than Olly. But I suspect that Olly is not quite as bad as he makes himself out to be – those two nice women wouldn’t have had anything to do with him if he was that bad, would they?”
He agrees that Orme, who tells the story, is hard on himself - granted the character has much to be hard on himself about, given that he effectively stole the wife of his best friend Marcus which meant shamelessly cheating on his own wife. So what we have is Orme’s testament in which he constantly rephrases or corrects himself, while constantly on the look-out for his own false, or disingenuous admissions. The Blue Guitar is a staggered stream of consciousness, in other words, Orme trying to be honest, Banville, the author trying to be equally precise, to breathe as much life as possible into the prose.