MOBI Kurt Vonnegut Jr. ¶ ¶ Bluebeard Kindle ¼

Broad humor and bitter irony collide in this fictional autobiography of Rabo Karabekian who at age seventy one wants to be left alone on his Long Island estate with the secret he has locked inside his potato barn But then a voluptuous young widow badgers Rabo into telling his life story—and Vonnegut in turn tells us the plain heart hammering truth about man’s careless fancy to create or destroy what he loves

10 thoughts on “Bluebeard

  1. says:

    One thing I've discovered is that people tend to have different favorites of Vonnegut's work Many prefer Slaughter House Five some love Breakfast of Champions and my sister's favorite is Galapagos The only person I've ever met whose favorite Vonnegut book is Bluebeard is me So it goesThe book follows former abstract expressionist painter Rabo Karabekian serving as his autobiography and a mystery story simultaneously The mystery? What is Rabo keeping in the huge potato barn on his large estateSome of you may remember Mr Karabekian from Breakfast of Champions; he was largely the same character albeit younger in years He's famous for his paintings you see he would take huge canvases spray paint them all one color and put pieces of colored tape on them There's several jokes regarding Rabo's paintings one of which he gave away in Breakfast his work is Rabo's view of the human soul When you strip away all of the unnecessary crap that makes us up we're all basically glowing shafts of light represented by the pieces of tape I won't give away the other joke but it's a good one Anyway this book is a lot of things a reflection on an imaginary life a faux biography and a moral we could all probably take to heart And we do get to find out what Bluebeard keeps in his potato barn It's a darned big thing

  2. says:

    “Everything about life is a joke Don't you know that?” From beginning to end Bluebeard has Kurt Vonnegut written all over it His irreverent tone summed up in the uote above along with his concomitant exploration of what it means to be human brings together familiar themes in Vonnegut’s work Bluebeard is the mock autobiography of abstract expressionist painter Rabo Karabekian a character who first appeared in Breakfast of Champions This is a book about what art is and what it can do in a society in which according to Karabekian “the young people of today seemed to be trying to get through life with as little information as possible”For Karabekian such information offers a connection to humanity and all of its symbols and cultural artifacts It thus goes to the heart of what it means to be an artist However best selling popular writer Circe Berman who moves in with Karabekian tells him that such knowledge is useless Their relationship reflects a debate between high and low culture It is no surprise then that Karabekian and Berman have a very different view of the abstract expressionism Karabekian espouses Karabekian is repeatedly asked to explain what his art is about However in a response that works for the artist as well as the writer he repeatedly maintains that the artist doesn’t owe it to the public to give them what they want What’s really wanted is a challenge Not sure how I’ll place it with other Vonnegut classics but I really enjoyed Bluebeard 45 stars “The darkest secret of this country I am afraid is that too many of its citizens imagine that they belong to a much higher civilization somewhere else That higher civilization doesn’t have to be another country It can be the past instead—the United States as it was before it was spoiled by immigrants and the enfranchisement of the blacks”From Bluebeard 1987

  3. says:

    This is Vonnegut so it’s uirky knowing silly intelligent funny mysterious what IS in the potato barn? and anti war – amongst many other things It's conversational and broken into very short chunks but don't be deceived into thinking it's lightweight It claims to be the autobiography of Rabo Karabekian an Armenian American WW2 veteran who became a major figure in Abstract Expressionism after an apprenticeship with realist illustrator Dan Gregory It reads as a memoir interspersed with “Bulletin from the present” sections which cover the eventful months he wrote it The backstory is relatively straight; the present day comical All the main characters are fictitious but a few real names are dropped such as Jackson PollockIt’s the 1980s Rabo is in his 70s and is living alone in a huge house in the Hamptons He no longer paints but is wealthy from his art collection and from property he inherited on the death of his second wife Edith He’s not actually alone as his cook lives in with her daughter and his writer friend Paul Slazenger practically lives there But he wants to be alone or thinks he does – until it looks as if it’s going to happen his mother thought “the most pervasive American disease was loneliness” Then the widow Circe Berman turns up and everything changesImage abstract expressionist picture by Willem de Kooning The Visit 1966–7 Source The Meaning and Value of Art“ How can you tell a good painting from a bad one? All you have to do is look at a million paintings and they you can never be mistaken”Should paintings – and their titles – communicate? If not what’s the point? This is a recurring uestion with a variety of answers Old lonely and guarding his Abstract Expressionist paintings Rabo says that they “are about absolutely nothing but themselves” and lack of passion and message in his works was why he was rejected by art school When Circe first sees his abstract works she declares “you hate facts like poison” And yet Rabo CAN draw – very well; the fact he doesn’t is “because it’s just too fucking easy”In contrast Dan Gregory’s works are hyper realistic and Rabo describes them as “truthful about material things but they lied about time” because Dan was “a taxidermist of great moments” One of the first things he taught Rabo was the importance of the phrase “The Emperor has no clothes” It’s for the reader to decide which art that applies toThere is a visceral thrill “I discovered something as powerful and irresponsible as shooting up with heroin if I start laying on just one colour of paint to a huge canvas I could make the whole world drop away” But it doesn’t work like that for everyone of one artist “I would look into his eyes and there wasn’t anybody home any ” and he says similar about someone else Inflated art prices and exploitative venture capitalists and investment bankers are lampooned especially by the fact that “My paintings thanks to unforeseen chemical reactions all destroyed themselves” including ones that sold for 20000 Sateen Dura Luxe proved to be anything but durable In contrast his teenage works were made with the best possible materials given to him from the stores of a successful artistWriting is another art form central to the narrative Rabo is now writing; his friends Circe Berman and Paul Slazenger are also writers of varying success and the letters of Dan Gregory’s PA Marilee are crucial to the story The secret is “to write for just one person” How you decide who that is is unclearCirce BermanThe widow Berman is a wonderful comic creation; I’d love to meet her though hate to share a home with her Her opening line on meeting Rabo is “Tell me how your parents died” because “hello” means “don’t talk about anything important” It’s also symptomatic of her pathological inuisitiveness “the most ferocious enemy of privacy I ever knew” His father died alone in a cinema and she immediately asks “What was the movie?” – shades of Graham Greene’s short story A Shocking Incident Her chutzpah is breath taking – the way she storms into Rabo’s life and takes control of him his house his time and those around him He is staggered outraged and compliant “’Who is she to reward and punish me and what the hell is this a nursery school or a prison camp?’ I don’t asker that because she might take away all my privileges”Bluebeard and What's in the Potato BarnI read this book because I wanted to read another Vonnegut and I was intrigued to see to what extent the title reflected the traditional story of Bluebeard see my review of Angela Carter's version HERE or even its echoes in Jane Eyre see my review HERE It’s a gentle nod but it helps if you’re aware of the original In the grounds Rabo has a potato barn that used to be his studio It is now locked up and its contents secret “I am Bluebeard and my studio is my forbidden chamber” but “there are no bodies in my barn” Much of the book is an elaborate tease as to what’s in there why and whether the reader will ever find out In contrast to his allegedly message less paintings Rabo says that the barn contains “the emptiest and yet the fullest of human messages” There are other forbidden places Dan Gregory’s is the Museum Of Modern Art Paul Slazenger’s is his Theory of Revolution currently in his head and Circe Berman must have something but I don’t know what or where War Death and ResurrectionThe main character is an injured veteran who came to the US as a child refugee from another war It’s not a ranting pacifist book and Rabo himself has fond memories of the army but Vonnegut’s anti war opinions shine through especially at the end Sometimes this is poignant Rabo is utterly repulsed by the scarring around his missing eye and always wears a patch Sometimes it is satirical WW2 was promoted to Americans on promises of “a final war between good and evil so that nothing would do but that it be followed by miracles Instant coffee was one DDT was another It was going to kill all the bugs and almost did Nuclear energy was going to make electricity so cheap that it might not even be metered Antibiotics would defeat all diseases Lazarus would never die How was that for a scheme to make the Son of God obsolete?”In fact it’s Rabo who is Lazarus Circe explicitly says so when he complains about her intrusion into and control of him “I brought you back to life You’re my Lazarus” and his beloved second wife Edith had had a similar effectAs a youth Rabo assumed society had evolved so that people would no longer be fooled by the apparent romance of war but as an old man he observes “you can buy a machine gun with a plastic bayonet for your little kid”The Inimitable Dan Gregory RefrainThe central third of the book feels as much like a biography of Dan Gregory as of RaboWhere Slaughterhouse Five has the recurring phrase “so it goes” in this it’s a series of superlatives about Dan Gregory “Nobody could do x like Dan Gregory” His achievements include “draw cheap mail order clothes” “paint grime” “counterfeit rust and rust stained oak” “counterfeit plant diseases” “counterfeit accents from stage screen and radio” “counterfeit images in dusty mirrors” “paint black people” “put of the excitement of a single moment into the eyes of stuffed animals” uotes• “Never trust a survivor until you find out what he did to stay alive”• “Perfectly beautiful cowboy boots dazzling jewelry for manly feet”• “She had life I had accumulated anecdotes”• Old canvases “Purged of every trace of Sateen Dura Luxe and restretched and reprimed dazzling white in their restored virginity”• “They are a negation of art They aren’t just neutral They are black holes from which no intelligence or skill can ever escape Worse than that they suck up the dignity the self respect of anybody unfortunate enough to have to look at them” What Rabo thinks of Circe’s choice of picturesSuggested by Rand as being in a similar vein to Vonnegut's excellent Galapogos see my review HERE

  4. says:

    “What a fool I would have been to let self respect interfere with my happiness” ― Kurt Vonnegut Bluebeard A pseudo memoir of Rabo Karabekian a minor Abstract Expressionist whose art literally disappeared thanks to a poor choice in paints It is hard to relay what the book essentially is but obviously it is an autobiography of an almost loner a hermit with a roommate He lives in his big house in the Hamptons among the art he bought cheap Rothkos Pollocks etc years ago He is being bullied into writing his memoirs by Polly Madison a writer of cheap blockbuster novels At its heart this novel is Vonnegut working his way through some of his previous big themes war isolation humanism pacifism along with explorations of art commerce cThis isn't one of his better novels but is firmly in the middle of the pack I personally wish Vonnegut spent time playing with the artistic canvas but the sections he spent dealing with Rabo apprenticing under Dan Gregory I get a NC Wyeth or Howard Pyle vibe a very popular illustrator is worth the entire cost of reading anything clunky in some of the other sections

  5. says:

    This is maybe the fourth or fifth Vonnegut book I've read having only been introduced to him recently sadly I'm becoming uite a fan of his writing What I like about him is that a lot of deep truths mask the ironic and humorous statements he makes Definitely a must read for those who like satire

  6. says:

    Come DancingBy the time I reached the last chapter of this novel I realised that Kurt Vonnegut had taken me dancing just as Rabo Karabekian had finally taken Mrs Circe Berman dancingUnforgettable71 year old Rabo sets off to write his autobiography but soon discovers that it has eually become a diary of the summer of its writing in his elegant mansion on Long Island inherited from his recently deceased second wife EdithRabo started his working life as a cartoonist and illustrator devoted much of it to Abstract Expressionism which he tired of and ceased painting but for one last work which tries to fill the gap between facile populist art They are a negation of art They aren't just neutral They are black holes from which no intelligence or skill can escape Worse than that they suck up the dignity the self respect of anybody unfortunate enough to have to look at them and post modernist art works which aren't supposed to mean anything and are about absolutely nothing but themselvesSelf ReflexivenessThere's a nice irony about this self reflexiveness because it's actually a concern of the novel itself which is much and far greater than a run of the mill work of white American male metafiction Rabo the illustrator and painter was an expert if self trained draughtsman you could really draw a skill he largely abandoned when he became part of the New York Abstract Expressionist movement His work reflected meat but not soul and that ultimately is the principal concern of the narrative How can Rabo get his soulgroove his pure essence of human wonder back? The answer might be in the potato barn he has used for a studioThe Anti Modernist MentorRabo's early mentor was Dan Gregory a highly successful master of fake or counterfeit realism much in the style of Norman Rockwell His obituary describes him as possibly the best known American artist in history Gregory knew he had succeeded when he learned to pass a fake bank note for a real one Gregory makes Rabo promise to learn by heart the sentence The Emperor has no clothes He regards modern art as found in the Museum of Modern Art as the work of swindlers and lunatics and degeneratesHow is that for trivia?The Kitsch WriterCirce Berman is actually a popular author of kitsch young adult novels that are useful frank and intelligent but as literature hardly than workmanlike under the pseudonym Polly Madison who is writing a biography of her deceased husband Abe a brain surgeon Rabo talks to her about the most pleasing aspects of being an artist She asks if it is having my first one man show getting a lot of money for a picture the comradeship with fellow painters being praised by a critic?Rabo asks Mrs Berman whether for a writer it is getting great reviews or a terrific advance or selling a book to the movies or seeing somebody reading your book?The Laying on of PaintIt's interesting to contrast painting and writingRabo seems to emphasise the process of painting the laying on of paint Mrs Berman says it's handing in a finished manuscript and never wanting to see it again Regrettably too many post modernist authors rely heavily on critical acclaim or the acclaim of their coterie especially those who derive their primary income from academia or writing courses that duplicate their own style Nowadays of course every novelty is celebrated immediately as a masterpiece Vonnegut while claimed by post modernists as one of their own when trying to assert the importance of their movement is often scorned because of his popular and commercial success ie for developing a large and appreciative audience beyond the coterie the gangSo be itThere Ain't Nothing You Can't DoEarlier an art lecturer says to Rabo Technically speaking there's nothing you can't doI think I think it is somehow very useful and maybe even essential for a fine artist to have to somehow make his peace on the canvas with all the things he cannot do That is what attracts us to serious paintings I think that shortfall which we might call 'personality' or maybe even 'pain' He adds The very first picture in your portfolio told me 'Here is a man without passion' And I asked myself what I now ask you 'Why should I teach him the language of painting since there seems to be absolutely nothing which he is desperate to talk about?' Rabo's last painting remedies this defect except that we can only perceive it in words Initially he describes it as a watchamacallit But eventually he tells us it is a portrait of a happy valley and the people who have been transported there at the end of the war in EuropeBluebeardThe title of the novel comes from a comment by Rabo to Mrs Berman I am Bluebeard and my studio is my forbidden chamber as far as you're concerned But that's not where the novel endsGoodbye It's your turn nowSOUNDTRACKview spoilerDexys Midnight Runners Dance Stance hide spoiler

  7. says:

    Rabo Karabekian was the artist in the art exhibit in Midland City Ohio that caused so many people to dislike art in Vonnegut’s 1973 novel Breakfast of ChampionsAn abstract expressionist he had sold to the art festival a huge painting that was a green canvas with a piece of orange tape vertically affixed to it For this he had been paid thousands of dollars The local economy was struggling at the time and many non artists resented him and his high falooting ways He was something of a snooty assBut when a cocktail waitress confronted him for his arrogance and the apparent fraud he had committed by selling the meaningless painting he stole the show in one of the finest scenes from that novel by explaining that he had demonstrated in minimalist fashion the ascendancy of a soul reaching for heaven Fourteen years later Kurt Vonnegut returns to Rabo for what is ostensibly an autobiography of the aging artist but what is of course another witty and cynical book by one of America’s greatest novelistsRabo describes his life as an Armenian American whose parents had escaped the Turkish genocide of their people only to be swindled by another Armenian on their way to California From these humble beginnings we follow Rabo to New York where he is an apprentice to a famous illustrator to World War II and beyond to his fleeting success as an artistHere’s the thingThe paint he used on all of his abstract expressionist paintings was defective and fell apart by and bySo we follow Kurt Vonnegut on another journey this time exploring art and humanity and love and insanity and war and capitalism and cultureAnd like the scene from Breakfast of Champions we learn that there is to Rabo Karabekian like most of us than meets the eye

  8. says:

    This was a lovely reintroduction to Vonnegut after a nearly eight year hiatus I remember loving his style and staccato rhythm of his prose Slaughterhouse Five remains one of my favourite novels and was one of the first that made me think science fiction could be much than explosions and cool scenes Bluebeard by contrast is an entirely realist novel about the abstract expressionist art movement Although it's only a little bit about that tooWhat it's really about is Rabo Karabekian ageing hermit art collector and life regretter with a secret something in his potato barn His hermitage is interrupted by Circe Berman a writer of what sure sounds like YA novels who endeavours to change his life much to his chagrin The novel involves many other characters who would be poorly introduced by myself in comparison to their richness as presented by Vonnegut All the characters here are wonderfully realized and I was sad to see them go by novel's endI love how Vonnegut is able to tie tethers through time to connect a character's past to their actions throughout their lives without shoving it down the reader's throat If Rabo is suffering he does so without expending page upon page in melancholy and it's to Vonnegut's credit that he makes the reader feel it in a sentence or two The novel is structured as Rabo's memoirs but plays loosely with linearity in a way that felt playful than willfully experimental In fact it's a trait I remember loving from my earlier readings of VonnegutI'm not sure if this is a well known Vonnegut novel but I was pleasantly surprised when it was chosen as our latest book club read It was compelling hilarious heartfelt and manages to be an uplifting story despite having some portions which seem like they would be highly unpleasant to have lived I was touched by many scenes and inexplicably astounded by the reveal in the potato barn even though it is no immense twist Bluebeard was a surprise and managed to slowly creep up on me with its charm This one is definitely worth a read and has helped to rekindle my love for Vonnegut

  9. says:

    Wow This was a novel that's going to keep me thinking for a long long time It was everything jam packed into a small little book clever tragic engrossing laugh out loud funny imaginative unexpected and even transformative I think There are so many layers to this book I'm sure I'll be thinking about it off and on for the next several months at least and will almost definitely re read this book a number of times before I reach room temperatureCheck it out The protagonistautobiographer is a veteran who lost an eye in WWII who later becomes one of the biggest jokes of the Abstract Expressionist art movement because all of his art disintegrates due to a poor choice of paint He started life as an illustrator who couldn't make it as a 'real' artist because his paintings lacked depth and vision And then he goes off to WWII and LITERALLY LOSES HIS SENSE OF DEPTH by having one of his eyes shot out Ironically I think it's this literal and figurative lack of depth perception that enables him to survive and not commit suicide while all of his other artist friends don't There is to this thing about eyes and perception too When both his father and some other artists are at their most creative their eyes become dead Half of this guy's eyes are already dead so he's not able to see what they're seeing so he can't be harmeddriven to suicide by it It's only at the very end of the book perhaps when he's finally oldstrongmaturestable enough to cope with everything he's seen is he really able to paint something that combines the objective reality of illustration and the visceral experience of abstract expressionism This shit was some mind freeing stuff for me Reading it right now for some reasonAnd then there's the whole thing about forbidden rooms and curiositythe name of the book itself and whatever it is that the guy has locked away in the potato barn Both the original Bluebeard story and Vonnegut's have curious prying women tooBut the thing that's occupying my mind about the book right now is endings In one part of the book a female character talks about how Ibsen's The Doll House ended the wrong way The Doll House's female lead leaves the house and everyone's left to assume she goes to Happily Ever After But the woman in Bluebeard believes she throws herself in front of a train Mostly because there really was no Happily Ever After for women at that time Only doll houses I read that and I'm like Yeah life is harsh and it's crappy to have books end happily Good books gotta end sad So then this book goes and ends on a positive note At first I was pretty bummed that everything works out in the end But then I thought It's only ME who tacks on the 'Happily Ever After' part Even though he has started the process of healing this guy has a whole long row to hoe that is not going to be happy pretty or any other easy positive word In the same way that Vonnegut's character has finally found a way to combine literal but soulless illustration with abstract expressionism maybe I'm getting closer to being able to see 'happily ever after' and 'life is still super hard' as two sides of the same simultaneously experienced realityI have been going on like this in my head since I finished this book 24 hours ago and things just seem to be speeding up as far as I can tell The sign of a great book in my book

  10. says:

    I have read several Kurt Vonnegut books and this one is excellent I enjoyed this one because the tone felt different in comparison his other works This book was not necessarily positive or upbeat but was optimistic Feelings of sentiment reflection and loneliness were rich in the story The story told by main character Rabo Karabekian who is an artist writing his autobiography I felt Rabo was cleansing and purging his past emotional pains and experiences through art in both painting and writing I thought the overarching theme was perseverance surviving the Armenian Genocide being resilient and overcoming facing forward and having courage in war and enduring as an apprentice only to become an just an artist The final painting in the barn muraled pain death suffering and survival all on one canvasI really liked this one because it was sentimental I would recommend this one in addition to 'Slaughterhouse Five' 'Mother Night' and 'Player Piano' if you are new to Kurt Vonnegut ThanksYou don't write for the whole world and you don't write for ten people or two You write for just one person