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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

The Blue Guitar

John Banville


From Chapter 1

Call me Autolycus. Well, no, don't. Although I am, like that unfunny clown, a picker-up of unconsidered trifles. Which is a fancy way of saying I steal things. Always did, as far back as I can remember. I may fairly claim to have been a child prodigy in the fine art of thieving. This is my shameful secret, one of my shameful secrets, of which, however, I am not as ashamed as I should be. I do not steal for profit. The objects, the arte­facts, that I purloin—there is a nice word, prim and pursed—are of scant value for the most part. Oftentimes their owners don't even miss them. This upsets me, puts me in a dither. I won't say I want to be caught, but I do want the loss to be registered; it's important that it should be. Important to me, I mean, and to the weight and legitimacy of the—how shall I say? The exploit. The endeavour. The deed. I ask you, what's the point of stealing something if no one knows it's stolen save the stealer?

I used to paint. That was my other passion, my other pro­clivity. I used to be a painter.

Ha! The word I wrote down at first, instead of painter, was painster. Slip of the pen, slip of the mind. Apt, though. Once I was a painter, now I'm a painster. Ha.

I should stop, before it's too late. But it is too late.

Orme. That's my name. A few of you, art lovers, art haters, may remember it, from bygone times. Oliver Orme. Oliver Otway Orme, in fact. O O O. An absurdity. You could hang me over the door of a pawnshop. Otway, by the by, after an undistin­guished street where my parents lived when they were young and first together and where, presumably, they initiated me. Orme is a plausible name for a painter, isn't it? A painterly name. It looked well, down at the right-hand corner of a canvas, mod­estly minuscule but unmissable, the O an owlish eye, the r rather art-nouveauish and more like a Greek T, the m a pair of shoul­ders shaking in rich mirth, the e like—oh, I don't know what. Or yes, I do: like the handle of a chamber pot. So there you have me. Orme the master painster, who paints no more. What I want to say is

Storm today, the elements in a great rage. Furious gusts of wind booming against the house, shivering its ancient timbers. Why does this kind of weather always make me think of child­hood, why does it make me feel I'm back there in those olden days, crop-haired, in short trousers, with one sock sagging? Childhood is supposed to be a radiant springtime but mine seems to have been always autumn, the gales seething in the big beeches behind this old gate-lodge, as they're doing right now, and the rooks above them wheeling haphazard, like scraps of char from a bonfire, and a custard-coloured gleam having its last go low down in the western sky. Besides, I'm tired of the past, of the wish to be there and not here. When I was there I writhed fretfully enough in my fetters. I'm pushing fifty and feel a hundred, big with years.

What I want to say is this, that I have decided, I have deter­mined, to weather the storm. The interior one. I'm not in good shape, that's a fact. I feel like an alarm clock that an angry sleeper, an angry waker, has given such a shake to that all the springs and sprockets inside it have come loose. I'm all ajangle. I should take myself to Marcus Pettit for repair. Ha ha.