FREE READ ñ The Untouchable

John Banville Ý 1 FREE READ

Inner of the Lannan Literary Award for FictionContemporary fiction gets no better than this Banville's books teem with life and humor Patrick McGrath The New York Times Book ReviewVictor 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 WorldAs remarkable a literary voice as any to come out of Ireland Joyce and Beckett notwithstanding San Francisco Chronicle What forces a person to betray his country Where do all the spies come from What makes them ticking Some true espionage stories are much stranger than fiction especially when the tale is told by such master as John Banville To take possession of a city of which you are not a native you must first fall in love there To achieve our own ideals we are ready to betray any ideals of the others

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The Untouchable

One of the most dazzling and adventurous writers now working in English takes on the enigma of the Cambridge spies in a novel of exuisite 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 ueen Now he has been unmasked as a Russian agent and subjected to a disgrace that is almost a kind of death But at whose instigationAs Maskell retrac It took a while for the magic of this to work on me Initially I thought Banville s prose had the uality of bracken on a forest floor the light picks out some beautiful tones and textures but there was a pervading sense of brittle lifelessness I felt he wrote like someone who never leaves his study or perhaps never leaves his head But then all of a sudden just before world war two arrives it jumped into life and I very much doubt if I ll read a beautifully written novel this year It s not going to be everyone s cup of tea The narrator is just about as world weary and cynical as any voice in literature I ve come across The mood is very much autumnal Banville has created a fictitious Anthony Blunt one of the Cambridge spies and told his story in the form of a memoir what used to be called a roman a clef but now seems to be known as biographical fiction I guess the first uestion one asks is why bother giving Blunt a fictitious name It gives Banville licence to make things up which means you end up curious about Blunt than feeling secure he s been explained to you This was a little about annoying as if I now have to read another book about him At the same time Banville s character is one of the most memorable and thought provoking I ve encountered for ages He s given us a brilliantly complex portrait of a man who defines many characteristics and contradictions of the age in which he lived The most fascinating thing about Banville s Blunt is that there s nothing passionate about his politics He doesn t at any point come across as a man driven by ideology It s like being a spy for the communists is a thrilling dangerous game for him And that the subterfuge fulfils a deep need of his nature Blunt was also homosexual and the two occupations have many parallels the need of a bogus convincing fa ade the necessity of whispering of being vigilant to your surroundings of gravitating towards dark secret places of carrying around the tension of imminent catastrophic betrayal at every moment At the heart of this novel is a painting Blunt buys and loves as a young man It s believed to be a Poussin but has never been authenticated The authenticity or not of this painting becomes and related to the authenticity of Blunt himself as the novel progresses is there any connection between his inner and outer life Does he even have an inner life At times it seems not He takes no interest in his children I don t think Anthony Blunt had a wife or children in real life he is driven by lust not love he is a snob he notices surfaces especially weather but seems to have little empathy for people His only true passion is for art and particularly Poussin who he writes about and becomes an expert on So you have the sense that the only thing holding Blunt together is the hope that his painting is authentic It s an exciting moment in the novel when we find out if it s authentic or not

CHARACTERS The Untouchable

Es 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 CarreW As readers we have all experienced or come across books that either make a siren call to us which we can t ignore or speak to us in a way that makes us drown within its pages or even sing to us a beautiful melody that soothes our spirit and enthralls us in a way nothing else does This book had a combination of all those whilst also painting vivid pictures that would definitely give artists around the world a run for their money Honestly I am not exaggerating when I say this as it was my own personal experience The Untouchable by John Banville is a Roman clef that is written from the point of view of Victor Maskell an exemplary art historian a ueen s man a double agent and a homosexual whose character is loosely based on Anthony Blunt a Cambridge spy Narrated by Maskell this book is part memoir and part confession taking us to that period in England where the educated often amused themselves with espionage and the erudite were often vociferous supporters of Marxism where to drink and debate passionately on all topics was considered the fashion where homosexuality was considered a crime and worse a thing of shame Those were the days when the youth rebelled at everything and experienced a certain amusement from it for all their rebellions were not really because they believed in the cause but was because it amused them Everything of that period amused them at least that s what one gets from reading this book Be it political affiliation sexual orientation criminal dealings cheating betrayal love friendship just about everything was a matter of amusement and thrown about to suit their present needs changed to fit their goals and ambitions never giving thought to the other We can call it a callous world cynical and selfish times we can even go further and look at those times with the disdain that is prevalent today but what we can t do is to ignore it Oh no it is a world and time that we can never ignore it is a time and world that is exciting even to those who disdain it it is a time that may have perhaps been the originator of the rebel movement an exciting time when the world was fraught with war and history that one has to acknowledge it and maybe salute those who lived in those perilous times and survived The book begins with Maskell a former British spy being uncovered as a double agent working for Russia during WWII Facing disgrace for his double role as well as for his sexual orientation Maskell is going through intense criticism from the community which is both angry and disgusted with the lies and which has resulted in the taking away of his Knighthood and also his removal from the position of Director Under these circumstances it is obvious that Maskell is beseeched by the press for an illumination on his exact role While he mostly remains silent he does get intrigued by a young woman who comes across to him as not belonging to this sect Being so intrigued he does accept her reuest for a private meeting where he learns that she wants to write a book on him What then began as an amusing game of cat and mouse between the young lady and Maskell where Maskell believes that he is simply stringing her along turns into a confession of sorts written by him as a memoir deeply affected by his own mortality Maskell perhaps feeling a need to cleanse his soul or maybe with a need to shock the young lady or even for reasons that could be as simple as being bored of all the secrecy and limitations gives forth an account that is as thrilling as any book on espionage written by the masters of that genre Banville brings alive those times in Cambridge where there was no thought or concern about right or wrong but life was all about living on the edge and indulging in the pleasures as if there was no tomorrow While the book is based on the story of the real life Cambridge Spies it is a fictional account where Banville takes the advantage of bringing in various tropes to suit the mood and create a flavor that is bursting with uniueness whilst also being familiar With Maskell s Irish roots Rothstein and Nick s Jewish ones Boy s boisterous nature and open admission of homosexuality Banville covers a wide range of subjects prejudices ideologies and a whole lot of history in a manner that is exciting thrilling and vivid The beauty of this book lies not in the subject or the tale although it does play an important role but in its language Banville brings to life the characters their individual and collective nature the often grimy and often sordid nature of the times the beauty of the surroundings even when it is bleak and grim the duplicity of espionage the threats the fears and the excitement and finally the subject of sexual orientation where disease and coming out were only fears that lurked below the surface Banville brings to life the debauchery the heartless and often cruel relationships that were maintained and the ennui that most inhabitants felt which led to dangerous pastimes Using dark humour as a tool Banville creates a story of espionage that throws light on everything from moral complexities in society to individual cynicism attitudes and vanity giving the reader a few laugh out loud moments whilst also making them experience a whole host of other emotions What makes this even special is the fact that nowhere does the pace flag or the story less suspenseful although I have to say that I did guess correctly in the beginning but was kept on my proverbial toes by giving way to constant doubts making it in short a wonderful suspense thrillerCharacters are the main crux of this story where you can actually say that this narration is character driven as opposed to being plot driven When a lot depends on the characters it is often difficult to maintain consistent growth or deterioration of the various characters that play a part in the story Here Banville shows his mastery by ensuring that every character even the smallest of them is developed beautifully While all the characters are seen through the eyes of the narrator Maskell they are so vivid in their description and portrayal that they actually come alive I can safely say that I lived this book instead of merely reading it Boy Nick Leo Maskell Vivienne uerrel Serena Danny and the myriad others weren t just names that I read but people I came to know and either liked or disliked depending on their actions or words You laugh with them you feel their pain you get angry and you feel proud these characters weren t mere characters to me but my friends and my enemies such was their portrayal The best part of the characters was that most of them were depictions of real life people given that this fictional tale had a founding in reality Trying to match the fictional with the real was a fun game that I had going while reading this book making it a fun read As with the broad outline of the story the author has also stayed true to the various historical references that are given which again added a special flavor A book which doesn t limit its scope to itself but actually makes you want to read and learn is a good book in my mind which this did making it a real pleasure to read Given that this book has adventure suspense history and covers a wide range of topics I don t think I need to say anything but to say that give this one a try and you might be surprised at what you find


10 thoughts on “The Untouchable

  1. says:

    It took a while for the magic of this to work on me Initially I thought Banville’s prose had the uality of bracken on a forest floor – the light picks out some beautiful tones and textures but there was a pervading sense of brittle lifelessness I felt he wrote like someone who never leaves his study or perhaps never

  2. says:

    After reading something written so well it’s a disappointment having only my own less elouent words available to praise it Maybe it’s better to let Banville’s passages sell themselves I’ll get to those soon but first a bit of context The book I learned only today is a Roman a clef or less a true account of the infamous Cambridge spies disguised as a novel The focus is on Victor Maskell a composite figure based primarily

  3. says:

    This is my second try with John Banville Once again he impresses me with his ability to write nearly perfect prose and characters who are as flesh and blood and flawed as any who ever breathed while completely boring me That's strike two Mr Banville and two is all most authors get from meBanville is a serious Literary Dude and this is a serious Literary Dude's novel The Untouchable is written as a memoir by on

  4. says:

    ALL HIGH TALK AND LOW FROLICSPart I My Other Secret LifeI first encountered the Judge professionally in CourtEarly in my career I appeared in

  5. says:

    It seems like I have been reading this forever The story is confusing but the writing is glorious Reading Banville is like reading a text book for writers But you have to read slowly savoring the word choices and images It's best to read on kindle with dictionary at hand

  6. says:

    As readers we have all experienced or come across books that either make a siren call to us which we can’t ignore or speak to us in a way that makes us drown within its pages or even sing to us a beautiful melody that soothes our spirit and enthralls us in a way nothing else does This book had a combination of all those whilst

  7. says:

    Metamorphosis is a painful process for Victor an art expert and ambitious man who turns to the life of a spy In the end his ambitions ruin him

  8. says:

    This is a great novel based on a blending of the lives of several real life British men “The Cambridge Five” who were spies for the Soviets in the 1930’s through the 1950’s Our main character given the na

  9. says:

    What forces a person to betray his country Where do all the spies come from What makes them ticking Some true espionage stories are much stranger than fiction especially when the tale is told by such master as John Banville“To take possession of a city of which you are not a native you must first fall in lov

  10. says:

    I've been spending the last month reading novels written by John Banville It's fun with authors that have multiple works to stick with them one after another for a while to glimpse their depth and soak their craft If at all possible

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