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Meet Comrade Bertie O'Wooster,
This review is from: The Untouchable (Paperback)
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 Stalinist spy.
I have never really figured out how important people like Blunt, Philby, Burgess and Maclean etc. really were and would love to know.
Many writers have made a living out of them and Banville has jumped on this bandwagon.
He has simply used Blunt as a coat peg to hang this story on although his main character is not an English but Irish albeit from
Not an Ulster Scot - Scotch-Irish for American readers - son of the manse with his staunch Presbyterianism but a wishy-washy Church of Ireland (i.e. Church of England) type.
A bit like Philip Carey in Somerset's Maugham's "Of Human Bondage", in fact. Other parts are reminiscent of Anthony Burgess's "Earthly Powers".
He is also a homosexual, like Blunt, but is also the father of two children. I assume this is supposed to make the story more interesting although whether it succeeds is another matter.
It is quite a good read albeit with some purple patches* but it fails to address the moral question of why people like Blunt became Soviet spies.
The writer - or narrator - escapes this point by mentioning the names of agents he gave to his Soviet contacts and not giving a damn about what happened to them. However, he does so in a very unconvincing way.
After all, old boy, why bother about prisoners being shot in the Gulag when one can admire Pousin's exquisite painting "The Death of Seneca"?
P.G. Wodehouse, may I introduce you to Comrade Stalin?
* Here's one example: "A thick drop of sunlight seethed in a glass paperweight on a low table. Mrs. Beaver was in the garden dosing hollyhocks with a mixture from her copper kettle. Tinny jazz music came hiccupping faintly down from upstairs..."