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The Untouchable [Paperback]

John Banville
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
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Book Description

6 Aug 2010

The Untouchable is an engrossing, exquisitely written and almost bewilderingly smart book . . . It’s the fullest book I’ve read in a very long time, utterly accomplished, thoroughly readable, written by a novelist of vast talent’ Richard Ford

Victor Maskell has been betrayed. After the announcement in the Commons and the hasty revelation of his double life of wartime espionage, his disgrace is public, his knighthood revoked, his position as curator of the Queen’s pictures terminated. There are questions to be answered. For whom has he been sacrificed? To what has he sacrificed his life?

‘No novel burrowed deeper beneath my skin than The Untouchable . . . Prose of great elegance, applied to a sardonic narrative, created an atmosphere at once austere, chilling and utterly believable’ John Coldstream, Daily Telegraph

‘Banville is the most intelligent and stylish novelist currently at work in English . . . the mien is austere and Victorian; the awareness, the ironic readings of the contemporary are razor-sharp’ George Steiner, Observer

‘Brilliant displays of power and control . . . magnificently written and, in its exploration of inhumanity, startlingly humane’ Alex Clark, Guardian


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Product details

  • Paperback: 405 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; New Ed edition (6 Aug 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 033033932X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330339322
  • Product Dimensions: 2.6 x 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 152,141 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of fifteen novels including The Sea, which won the 2005 Man Booker Prize. He lives in Dublin.

Product Description

Amazon Review

A brilliant, engaging and highly literate espionage-cum-existential novel, John Banville's The Untouchable concerns the suddenly-exposed double agent Victor Maskell, a character based on the real Cambridge intellectual elites who famously spied on the United Kingdom in the middle of the 20th century. But Maskell--scholar, adventurer, soldier, art curator and more--respected and still living in England well past his retirement from espionage, looked like he was going to get away with it when unexpectedly, in his 70s and sick with cancer, he is unmasked. The question of why, and by whom assumes less importance for Maskell than the soul-searching questions of who, ultimately, he really is, why he spied in the first place, and whether his many-faceted existence adds up to an authentic life.

Review

“The exquisitely tired note which which Callow injects into the voice of the elder Victor Maskell is particularly memorable.”
Irish Times 30/8/97

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An "anquished, seething in the heart." 21 Oct 2003
By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Victor Maskell takes us step by (often debauched) step through what passes for his life. Maskell, a thinly disguised Anthony Blunt, is one of several by now well-known Cambridge spies from the thirties and forties. Banville vividly recreates not only the political and social turmoil of the period but also the intellectual experimentation and the search for values spawned by these turbulent times.
The depiction of decadence, drunkenness, sexual depravity, and social snobbery, combined with intellectual arrogance and political naivete, all show the reader how someone could have been seduced into becoming a willing spy. Though it is difficult to feel any real sympathy for Maskell, one can understand his need for significance--for something bigger in his life--and equally, his eventual need to reject that role. In prose that is astonishing in its facility and virtuosity, Banville sweeps away the fustiness of previous journalistic accounts of the Cambridge spies and creates flawed, breathing humans. Mary Whipple
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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Perplexing Magic 23 Nov 2005
By F. S. L'hoir TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
I enjoyed this book tremendously. The character of Victor Maskell (the "mask" in Maskell representing a persona of Anthony Blunt) is complex and believable; the story is suspenseful, and Banville's prose can only be described as both luminous and effortless: "A huge, bone-white moon hung above the prostrate sea, and the ship's wake flashed and writhed like a great silver rope unravelling behind us." [p. 57]

And yet, since I have read biographies of Anthony Blunt and Louis MacNeice's autobiographical "The Strings are False" (not to mention every available book on the Cambridge Spies), I feel rather like Dorothy of Oz, who has glimpsed "that man behind the curtain" who should be ignored, if the magic is to be believed.

Those who have not read the literature on the Cambridge Spies will enjoy the book without reservation. Those who have will discover that "The Untouchable" represents a fascinating roman à clef. The boisterous Boy Bannister, who haunts the Gryphon [read Gargoyle] club, can only be Guy Burgess; Philip MacLeish, the "dour Scot" code named Castor [read Homer] can only represent Donald Maclean. Other characters are more equivocal. For instance, one detects a bit of MacNeice not only in Maskell but also in the character of Nick Brevoort. Furthermore, Banville's use of names of actual people who figured in Blunt's real Cambridge life (e.g. Leo, Victor, Sykes, Alistair) as ingredients mixed into his narrative, from which they emerge reborn into new characters, contributes to the verisimilitude of Maskell's character. Except for Boy Bannister, however, the other spies are composites. For instance, Alistair Sykes (who seems to be puffing on Kim Philby's pipe) is given a job at what passes for Bletchley Park, and he suffers Alan Turing's tragic demise.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The writer is a a little too self-indulgent 27 Aug 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Many of the storytelling tricks are clever and capture the readers' enthusiasm for the biography. My personal view is that the 'omelette is overegged', that the author indulges in pseudish prose bringing in anecdotes and analogies which feel stage managed and unnatural, as if to please the reader who can share the academic rigour? My own view is that this is patronizing and pretentious - hence ruining the rhythm of the story. I could not help feeling how Evelyn Waugh would have been an excellent assist for John Banville )not perhaps the p[lot but the prose).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deeply impressive roman a clef 27 April 2013
Format:Paperback
What an astonishing writer John Banville is. There are passages in this book that are so beautifully crafted that they take your breath away. He creates a whole world, full of intricate and convincing detail, and above all he makes you believe in Victor Maskell. The are some longeurs, and some chapters that don't quite work, but the overall impression is of a master at work.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Stylish Account of the Cambridge Spy Ring 3 Dec 2012
Format:Paperback
Although one of my reasons for reading the novel is that it takes me out of my comfort zone to places where my mind would not normally dwell, I must admit that I did not like the places where John Banville's "The Untouchable" took me. It is not a question that I still harbour a narrow minded view of the novel, rather it was just simply that the world of spies and a Cambridge elite has very little to say to me that I would find interesting.

In The Untouchable, Banville sets out to write a fictionalised account of the Cambridge spy ring in which Anthony Blunt, the person whom the main character Victor Maskell is based on, played a leading part. The narrator, Victor Maskell, aged 72 looks back on his turbulent life by telling his story to a Miss Vandeleur his supposed biographer. In doing so the narration moves back and forth in time seamlessly and is rendered with a wry sense of humour. Maskell's self reflection holds a mirror up for us to see the hypocrisy and sycophancy of himself, his circle of friends and acquaintances. In true auto/biography tradition what is revealed are issues to do with life, family, friendships career.

Deception is obviously a key issue in the novel and even in the current turmoil that Victor is facing, as a result of his past, he still remains deceitful. As he tells his story to Miss Vandeleur he ponders whether he himself is writing a journal, memoir or autobiography. Meanwhile, of course Miss Vandeleur appears to be setting out to write a biography of Victor whom he acknowledges would be upset if she knew she was being pre-empted by his ultimate autobiography. This was a clever move by Banville in setting out his attitude towards his character.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Mr. Banville's success
Not an easy read and many might give up ... but the mystery and the writing is compelling ... worth sticking at it
Published 2 months ago by Mrs. Marielaine Church
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable
It took a few chapters to get into this, but once I did I thoroughly enjoyed it. A good yarn against a recent historical background.
Published 11 months ago by Janet Louise Wilson
3.0 out of 5 stars Meet Comrade Bertie O'Wooster
This novel is based on the life of upper class English art historian, Sir Anthony Blunt, who managed to be the curator of Her Majesty's pictures at the same time as being a... Read more
Published 11 months ago by John Fitzpatrick
4.0 out of 5 stars beautifully written
John Banville is a very clever man. I'm so glad I read this book on my kindle, as I had to look up words almost every page. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Lucy Abbott
3.0 out of 5 stars Dense and slow
I like John Banville's writing. It is often beautifully crafted and polished. But sometimes as in this book the polishing is so detailed that it gets inn the way of the story. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Barton Keyes
3.0 out of 5 stars This is unstretching bed-time reading. It is a little tedious and...
unstretching bed time reading. Descriptions of louche London of the thirties and forties are a bit repetitive. Read more
Published 15 months ago by George Reid
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I hoped there would be more about the life of a spy instead of the low life of the characters
Published 18 months ago by Jane
5.0 out of 5 stars Theadora Pretty
Quite difficult to get into but then absolutely wonderful and compelling. Very bleak outlook on life in the time before the 2nd World War, but some very funny moments to lighten... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Michael Pretty
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly wonderful book
Beautifully written and very evocative. I was enthralled from the first page and really in awe of the skill of this writer. The best book I read in 2011.
Published 22 months ago by E. O'Callaghan
4.0 out of 5 stars Witty, Sardonic and Very Entertaining.
Considering this book was first published in 1997, I have come to it rather late - however I am glad I finally got around to reading it, as it was well worth the read. Read more
Published on 9 Oct 2011 by Susie B
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