The Untouchable

The Untouchable

by John Banville


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One of the most dazzling and adventurous writers now working in English takes on the enigma of the Cambridge spies in a novel of exquisite menace, biting social comedy, and vertiginous moral complexity. The narrator is the elderly Victor Maskell, formerly of British intelligence, for many years art expert to the Queen. Now he has been unmasked as a Russian agent and subjected to a disgrace that is almost a kind of death. But at whose instigation?

As Maskell retraces his tortuous path from his recruitment at Cambridge to the airless upper regions of the establishment, we discover a figure of manifold doubleness: Irishman and Englishman; husband, father, and lover of men; betrayer and dupe. Beautifully written, filled with convincing fictional portraits of Maskell's co-conspirators, and vibrant with the mysteries of loyalty and identity, The Untouchable places John Banville in the select company of both Conrad and le Carre.

Winner of the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction

"Contemporary fiction gets no better than this... Banville's books teem with life and humor." - Patrick McGrath, The New York Times Book Review
"Victor Maskell is one of the great characters in recent fiction... The Untouchable is the best work of art in any medium on [its] subject." -Washington Post Book World
"As remarkable a literary voice as any to come out of Ireland; Joyce and Beckett notwithstanding." -San Francisco Chronicle

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679767473
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/28/1998
Series: Vintage International Series
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 434,615
Product dimensions: 5.14(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.83(d)

About the Author

John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945.  He is the author of more than ten novels, including The Book of Evidence, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Guinness Peat Aviation Award.  He won the Booker Prize for his novel The Sea in 2005.  He lives in Dublin.

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Untouchable 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Emmyfa More than 1 year ago
I had heard so much about the wonderfulness of John Banville and could not wait to dig into this book for my April book group discussion. It was a slog in the beginnning and didn't get much better. I will admit that I kept reading because I wanted to see what happened. It is touted as being about the Cambridge spies during the war. Really it was about one man's life and how he finally gave into his homosexuallity and the life of men during that period. It was more like Brideshead Revisited, lots of drinking and unfathomable relationships. (Meaning how could they stand one another.) The women were not more admirable. There were some moving sections, especially about Victor's own family. It is extremely well written but don't let the good reviewers kid you. There is nothing humorous about this. Perhaps a few witty observations but the story is grim. So sad, really.
evergene on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Powerful insight into the reasons -- social, intellectual, and especially aesthetic -- that thoughtful well educated men were attracted to Communism. Maskell is based on Anthony Blunt, the most interesting member of the Cambridge Five spy ring.
Eyejaybee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A beautifully written thinly-disguised retelling of the story of Anthony Blunt. The principal character is Victor maskell and at the start of the novel we learn that he has just been identified in Parliament by a minister answering questions about the Cambridge spies. We gradually learn that Maskell had been knighted in recognition of his service as Master of the Queen's Art Collection (sound familiar?), but had been a long-serving Soviet spy.Hounded by the press (and by the beguiling freelance journalist Ms Vandeleur in particular) he starts to write his own reminiscences in an attempt fully to understand how he had become caught up in the waves of history.Hauntingly beautiful.
neurodrew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Victor Maskell is an art historian, upper class British gentleman, and Russian spy. He becomes a Bolshevik during his years at Cambridge, and becomes involved with the Communists through his youthful liberalism. He is involved with several other friends, "Boy" Bannister, Nick, Querrel, and Leo Rothenstein, drinking and partying in the 20's. He finds out he is homosexual at about age 30, and then spends much time in bathrooms and bars, although being a curator at the art institute during the day. In World War 2 he worked in the intelligence service, and passed on many decoded transmissions to the Russians. He did a mission for the King, obtaining compromising papers from the King's relatives in Saxony at the end of the war. When he was betrayed (by Nick, whom he was in love with since youth), he used that mission to blackmail the secret service to keep his job in the art institute, and to obtain a knighthood. The book is told after his spying was revealed in the press. The writing was very good, and the characters well drawn, although somewhat unbelievable in the way they could drink and survive.
ayaeckel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
well written story of intellectuals/reds in england beginning in the thirties continuing to the present
billmcn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An acidic roman à clef about a Cambridge art historian who, despite tepid ideological convictions, is recruited to spy for Moscow. Banville's novel is pitch perfect for that particular variety of Anglophile fascinated by the trappings of the era between the Armistice and the evacuation of Dunkirk¿tweedy propriety, Bletchly Park, public school homosexuality, and, of course, treason. Banville does it perfectly.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book tremendously. John Banville has created in the character of Victor Maskell someone both complex and believable; the story is suspenseful, and his prose, as always, can only be described as both luminous and effortless. He describes his voyage to France early in the war: "The night was preternaturally calm, and our troopship, a converted steamer which before the outbreak of war had ferried day trippers between Wales and the Isle of Man, glided intently as a knife through the milky, unreally moonlit sea."(p. 184) The novel surveys the complications of leading multiple lives as husband, father, spy and closet homosexual. All this done with aplomb and wit, taste and style. Maskell has a love for the work of Nicolas Poussin that is evidenced by his devotion to his painting, The Death of Seneca. This plays an important role as Maskell's narration of his life as it winds onward through the book. Apparently the fictional character was loosely based on the real life of Anthony Blunt. John Banville has created another masterpiece of storytelling.
samatoha on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A master of combining popular fiction (this time:spy fiction) with arty-fiction (Nabokov),this is one of Banvill's greatest novels.
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This was my first Banville read.  It is a novel that I will not soon forget.....very different than anything I have read previously.
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