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A Balthus Notebook
Guy Davenport

Published by Ecco Books in 1980

A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2015


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After reading this whole book on Balthus, I still don't know what his first name is, but I do know about his paintings. Balthus's paintings remind me of my daughter's paintings, and I read Davenport's words for insight into how one writes about such a visual medium. What surprised me most was the recurrent auditory metaphors that Guy used. In one place he talked about Balthus's paintings as though each were holding a conversation with another artist's paintings; in another place he said that the figure in one of Balthus's paintings "rhymed" with a figure in another artist's painting.

This small book, less than 100 pages, is a gem - each page, whether a short, one-sentence-paragraph, or a full page of text, stands alone, sparkles with insight, coruscates in the reflected light of the paintings he describes.

Named "A Balthus Notebook" - an appropriate name for the casual, disorganized presentation of the material, like a literal translation from his notebooks into book form- it might be just as well named, "An Essential Guide to Balthus" for two reasons. One, Davenport grasps and presents cogently the essence of Balthus's work, and two, no library of works on Balthus would be complete without this book.

The book of a mature writer, it contains no filler, no fluff, only hard crystals of insight set out on a mantelpiece for inspection. The picture of Davenport on the rear jacket cover says volumes: there is a sparkle in his eyes and a look of peace on his face that was not there in his earlier photo on "The Geography of Imagination," a book I bogged down in halfway through.

After completing "Notebook" I reread his "Geography" and found a delightful bit on "Hobbitry" ahead of my bookmark. In it he describes how his former professor Ronnie came to acquire the delightful names of his characters in "The Lord of The Rings" from local names in rural Kentucky. Surprises are never more that a sentence or two away when one enters the realm of Davenport's imagination.


Any questions about this review, Contact: Bobby Matherne


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