An highly atmospheric, unsettling literary noir about pain, loss and recovery set in the contemporary art world.
George Newhouse is an art historian and newly appointed curator at a troubled public gallery in Edinburgh. Recently bereaved, he has arrived in the city with no ties and few friends. As Newhouse struggles with his grief he becomes increasingly obsessed with the lost Dutch masterpiece, The Blue Horse, by Pieter Van Doelenstraat. The mysterious painting’s provenance is disputed and many doubt it exists at all, but Newhouse has uncovered the slightest of clues; a letter by Rembrandt where the master states, ‘That damned painting vexes my mind’s eye’.
His grip of reality slowly loosening, he embarks on surreal journey of loss and self-discovery, fuelled by alcohol, drugs and self-destructive behaviour. As the lines between reality, imagination and the supernatural blur, will George lose himself or return from the brink of destruction in time?
Praise for The Blue Horse
‘There were times in Philip Miller’s The Blue Horse when I had to look away from the twilight art world his lyrical prose so effectively eviscerates. There is a tremendous sense of darkness here. And yet his strength as a storyteller, his ability to create multiple narratives of greed and grief; of blurred desire, pulled me back. There is an intoxication about this writing, a narcotic lure to its descriptions of ambition and decline but it never strays far from the simple art of a good story well told.’ Toni Davidson, author of Scar Culture and My Gun Was As Tall As Me
‘A sensitive portrait of a man trying to turn his life around’ Herald
‘The Blue Horse is the title of a lost Dutch masterpiece by Pieter Van Doelenstraat — although there are some experts who claim that it never existed. George Newhouse is the newly appointed director of an Edinburgh art gallery on a mission to discover the truth about the painting. At the same time he is trying to recover from the death of his wife. While it might sound like a bit of a crazy mix, this book is successful on both levels: as an extremely closely observed account of the shallow absurdities of the international art scene and a raw rendition of how ugly the effects of deep loss can be. And, as we witness the descent of the young curator into drugs and casual depravity, the author succeeds in keeping us gripped by our wish for Newhouse to survive and to know why the truth about the painting matters so much.’ Daily Mail
‘His portrait of George Newhouse, the art historian half-blinded by grief and drink, is well done, and that strange place, the art world, is brought convincingly to life. An impressive debut.’ Scotland on Sunday
‘Sharp and pellucid’ Scottish Review of Books
‘I was disturbed… interesting and convincing’ Alasdair Gray
‘At its heart, The Blue Horse exquisitely evokes the pain we feel when we lose love. It is a surreal tale of the relationship between men and women… and art… What else is there?’ Alison Watt, artist
‘The Blue Horse is a book that refuses to be classified – it is a genre of its own, born of a visionary imagination and beautiful, beautiful writing. The mystery of a cursed painting is wrapped around a man who is mourning the loss of his wife. We see a choreography, a dance, between the man and the painting, and in that dance the dead wife and the promise of a new love are dragged in and entangled. To me, this is the story of a soul tethering between despair/hell and salvation, written in a way that goes from dry, hard, sparse, nearly cruel, to heartbreakingly poetic (a lock of the beloved wife wrapped around her ear like seaweed around a shell). It’s clear to see that Miller is a poet, because he uses sounds and words to create rhythm, and he exploits repetition in a way I have never seen before. His love of art is everywhere, and I can feel he thinks in colour – I kept thinking of Gaudi, Goya, flashes of German expressionism and sweet Chagall, up to a conclusion that reminded of William Blake. The story frightened me. It really did. Because the places of dismay touched in the book are so real, they make you wonder if the fantastical parts might be real too. I think that The Blue Horse is a genre in itself – unique and honest, without trying to be anything else than what it is. Don’t rush it – savour the language – you’ll find yourself on a journey much like Dante’s, hoping that at the end there will be stars.’
Daniela Sacerdoti, author of Watch Over Me, Take Me Home and Set Me Free
‘The Blue Horse displays Philip Miller’s excellent ability to tell a dark and sinister story with a writing style which is multi-dimensional and a protagonist drawn with depth and realism. The novel is filled with intriguing parallels between its main and sub plots which make for an exciting and very worthwhile read.’ DURA magazine
‘What swept me along with the book was that it was a terrific description of grief… It’s quite visceral, there’s quite a lot sex, of drunkenness, of people behaving badly, I thought: this is great. There are very funny moments… George Newhouse just leapt off the page for me.’ Janice Forsyth, BBC Radio Scotland
‘Dark and atmospheric, this much anticipated novel [is] set in the art world’ [****] Scottish Field
‘Tersely written, darkly atmospheric’ Scottish Review
‘This is a literary novel I think deserves a wide audience.’ Eclectic Electric