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THE FORGETTING ROOM by Nick Bantock

THE FORGETTING ROOM

By Nick Bantock

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1997
ISBN: 0-00-225176-0
Publisher: HarperCollins

 The high production values of Bantock's latest--with its thick paper, wide margins, and inviting typeface--can't compensate for a weak narrative and often generic-looking illustrations. Bantock mistakes stilted diction for philosophic seriousness in this fable about an artist's discovery of himself. Presented as a journal of an eight-day visit to Spain, the slim story records the trippy musings of Armon Hurt, a New England bookbinder who must settle the estate of his recently deceased grandfather, an artist who retired to his native Ronda after years of exile in Switzerland. Disappointed to discover that his grandfather gave away all his work, Armon focuses on his legacy--a small box with a tiny painting and clues to a ``surrealist game.'' Six questions lead him to various further clues: an 8mm film of his grandparents, some marked passages from Garcia Lorca, bits and scraps of paper from the grandfather's studio. At the same time, Armon begins a drawing of his own, recalling from childhood all his grandfather's prescriptions about art. Bantock re-creates Armon's work-in-progress, from its origin as a realist sketch of an ancient ruin to its final incarnation as a collage triptych. Rather than leave his grandson with mere paintings, Rafael Hurtago (the family's name before Armon's father shortened it on arrival in America) managed to inspire his grandson to create for himself. That's the point of the game--for Armon to express himself, to connect with the ``duende'' (or spirit) of the Andalusian earth. Once Armon abandons his ``tightly held sense of order and composition,'' he discovers his true inheritance, a ``desire to paint.'' He also restores his full family name. Armon's final artwork, meant to justify his long personal journey, is actually less impressive than his first drawing--in keeping with Bantock's also ponderous style with its New Ageish idioms that ultimately recall Chopra more than Lorca. ($115,000 ad/promo; TV satellite tour)