SUMMARY ↠ The Untouchable


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 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 façade 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


  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 on real life Anthony Blunt It’s structured as a memoir by Victor in his mature years reflecting back on his days as a would be ideologue in the socialists' camp stoicists' really an intelligence officer in WWII a spy for the Russians a renowned art historian an uninvolved family man and a fancier of men Finding conflict in a life like that was no challenge Breathing life into an inherently cold fish was Victor was undeniably complex but there was not a lot of empathy to endear him to anyone The pleasure in reading the book was not in witnessing any ultimate humanization but in the language and intelligence of the author Here are some samples Judge for yourself Illustrating one aspect of the man Victor was “The crowd was so large it had overflowed from the gallery and people were standing about the pavement in the evening sunshine drinking white wine and sneering at passers by and producing that self congratulatory low roar that is the natural collective voice of imbibers at the fount of art Ah what heights of contempt I was capable of in those days Now in old age I have largely lost that faculty and I miss it for it was passion of a sort”And another as mentioned by a friend “The trouble with you Vic is that you think of the world as a sort of huge museum with too many visitors allowed in”Victor comparing his Irish upbringing with that of a Jewish friend “We shared the innate bleak romanticism of our two very different races the legacy of dispossession and especially the lively anticipation of eventual revenge which when it came to politics could be made to pass for optimism”On his evolving views speaking about “the American system itself so demanding so merciless undeluded as to the fundamental murderousness and venality of humankind and at the same time so grimly unflaggingly optimistic More heresy I know apostasy; soon I shall have no beliefs left at all only a cluster of fiercely held denials”Victor reminiscing with old friend Nick “’Do you remember’ I said ‘that summer when we first came down to London and we used to walk through Soho at night reciting Blake aloud to the amusement of the tarts? The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction He was our hero do you remember? Scourge of hypocrisy the champion of freedom and truth’ ‘We were usually drunk as I recall’ he said and laughed; Nick does not really laugh it is only a noise that he makes which he has learned to imitate from others ‘The tygers of wrath’ he said ‘Is that what you thought we were?’” “How to Write” books tell you to use adverbs and adjectives sparingly When you’re John Banville though and know all the right ones maybe the rule shouldn’t apply He may not be to your taste if say Hemingway shots are your beverage of choice but as cups of tea go for English Lit types this guy’s well worth a try


  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 one Victor Maskell who is based on real life Cambridge spy Anthony Blunt; although this is a novel it's only loosely fictionalized history Maskell as he tells his story was like Blunt formerly the keeper of the British royal family's art collection and has recently been exposed as a Soviet spy since before World War II Maskell is also a homosexual which plays a large part of his narrative he describes his sexual encounters with the same precise elegant prose as he talks about watersheds in history and his role as a Soviet double agentEverybody nowadays disparages the 1950s saying what a dreary decade it was And they are right if you think of McCarthyism and Korea the Hungarian rebellion all that serious historical stuff I expect however that it is not public but private affairs that people are complaining of uite simply I think they did not get enough of sex All that fumbling with corsetry and woolen undergarments and all those grim couplings in the back seats of motorcars The complaints and tears and resentful silences while the wireless crooned callously of everlasting love Feh What dinginess What soul sapping desperation The best that could be hoped for was a shabby deal marked by the exchange of a cheap ring followed by a life of furtive relievings on one side and of ill paid prostitution on the other Whereas oh my friends to be ueer was the very bliss The Fifties were the last grace age of ueerdom All the talk now is of freedom and pride Pride But these young hotheads in their pink bellbottoms clamoring for the right to do it in the street if they feel like it do not seem to appreciate or at least seem to wish to deny the aphrodisiac properties of secrecy and fearMaskell is wry cynical sometimes humorous and a bit depressive looking back on a career that's been generally distinguished while always overshadowed by these twin secrets he has lived his entire life in two closets as a homosexual and a double agent He has few regrets and he seems as much amused as he is upset by his public disgrace the shock of his friends the shame of his familyAs brilliantly narrated as Maskell's story is the problem is that it isn't much of a story It's an old man reminiscing about being a young Marxist and a gay blade back when either one could get you hard prison time There are no dramatic spy moments — even during World War II he's just passing on not very important information to the Russians until eventually he gets tired of the whole thing and rather anticlimactically as much as a book that's had no suspense to begin with can have an anticlimax drops out of the spy game Then years later he's thrown under the bus by some of his former associates Figuratively not literally; if anyone were actually thrown under a bus in this book it would have been excitingMost excellently written? Yes Banville wins literary prizes — go John Banville Did I care about Victor Maskell and his whiny cynical misogynistic moping after decades of being a Soviet spy? Noooo If you have a real interest in this era particularly with a realistically if not particularly sympathetically depicted gay character then you probably won't regret reading this but don't make the mistake of thinking that because it's about spies it's thrilling


  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 the Family Court 400 times over two years 50 or so appearances would have been before himHe was a precise and impatient judge He had little tolerance for fools or the lazy or the unprepared My reputation some of which he would have contributed to was that I anticipated what a judge wanted and I gave it to him I use the masculine pronoun because although the Chief Justice was a woman all of the local judges with whom I dealt were menAt the same time I was the Deputy Chairman of the Institute of Modern Art The Judge's wife Nancy was a lecturer in Art at the University and freuently attended our monthly openings On one occasion she introduced me to her guest an academic and writer from New York called Lucy whose specialty was Pop Art They invited me to Lucy's lecture later that week and I duely attendedAfterwards at drinks Nancy made to introduce me to her husband but he stopped her suddenly saying I'm well acuainted with Mr Graye's other side He's one of the few I can rely on to do his jobI replied that he was one of the few judges who made it a pleasure and a privilege I had never lost a case in front of him even though it wasn't meant to be an adversarial jurisdictionLater Lucy mentioned that if I was ever in New York I should feel free to visit her As it turned out I was planning a visit to San Francisco New York and London the following March in 1982At this point the Judge offered to give me a letter of introduction to a friend of his who was the director of an art institute in LondonHe also hinted that he might ask a reciprocal favour of me As it turned out his friend Victor Maskell wished to give him a much treasured work of art and the Judge was hoping I would deliver it back to him at the end of my trip I was in effect to be an art courier for the Judge and his friendThe Admirable Detachment of the ScholarVictor Maskell was sitting at the desk in his study He was a well known art historian Keeper of the ueen's Pictures and Director of the highest profile art institute in BritainHowever outside the turbulence of life continued A writer a contemporary historian whatever that is had exposed his long term spying activities in a book that was about to be published and the newspapers had got onto the story What would he do? Defect? Commit suicide? Confess? Make a fool of himself? Disgrace himself?No he sat down at his desk to write a version of the events He doesn't necessarily seek to make himself look good or to add yet another burnished mask to the collection he has already assembledInstead he adopts a metaphor from the world of art Attribution verification restoration I shall strip away layer after layer of grime the toffee coloured varnish and caked soot left by a lifetime of dissembling until I come to the very thing itself and know it for what it is My soul My selfInevitably he laughs at his pretence so that as beautifully written as this work is we don't know whether it is genuine or whether it is the product of a truly unreliable narratorHe's than capable of misleading us He has been interrogated for years and never broken down A journalist or is she a writer or a spy? Serena Vandeleur approaches him to obtain his cooperation in writing a biography so ironically this work is his bid to pre empt hers He wants to define himself his way rather than simply supply answers to someone else's probing uestions He wants to paint his own picture make his own self portrait rather than sit for someone else's versionLike everybody else Miss Vandeleur just wants to know Why did you do it?To which Maskell responds Why? Oh cowboys and indians my dear Cowboys and indiansThen he adds It was true in a way The need for amusement the fear of boredom was the whole thing much than that really despite all the grand theorising? And hatred of America of courseThe defence of European cultureDescribing him as a spy underestimates him I was a connoisseur you know before I was anything elseMaskell thinks of his work as an edifice that he is building Though it's hard to tell whether it's a construction or a fabrication or a realisation of something hidden from view We were latterday Gnostics keepers of a secret knowledge for whom the world of appearances was only a gross manifestation of an infinitely subtler real reality known only to the chosen few but the iron ineluctable laws of which were everywhere at work This gnosis was on the material level the euivalent of the Freudian conception of the unconscious that unacknowledged and irresistible legislator that spy in the heartAt our lightest we seemed to ourselves possessed of a seriousness far deep partly because it was hidden than anything our parents could manage with their vagueness and lack of any certainty any rigour above all their contemptibly feeble efforts at being good Let the whole sham fortress fall we said and if we can give it a good hard shove we will 'Destruam et aedificabo' as Proudhon was wont to cryI destroy in order to build This is the rationale behind support of a revolutionary cause Though Maskell himself is of a theorist than an activist Even then he refers to the crassness of trying to turn theory into action in the same way that I despised the Cambridge physicists of my day for translating pure mathematics into applied scienceStill Maskell confesses that even the theory was sketchy at best He was no philosopher spy 'There must be action' I said with the doggedness of the dogmatist 'We must act or perish'That is I'm afraid the way we talked'Oh action' Nick said and this time he did laugh 'Words for you are action That's all you do jaw jaw jaw'It was all selfishness of course; we did not care a damn about the world much as we might shout about freedom and justice and the plight of the masses All selfishnessTime for a gin I thinkWhat Maskell most cared about was art even so than gin Here in Russia was being built a society which would apply to its own workings the rules of order and harmony by which art works; a society in which the artist would no longer be dilettante or romantic rebel pariah or parasite; a society whose art would be deeply rooted in ordinary life than since medieval times What a prospect for a sensibility as hungry for certainties as mine wasEventually Maskell starts to see himself as an actor a character in a play if not a novel His friends are an ensemble to whom he is loyal than his country or even his ostensible causeTogether they indulge in some glorious transgressive momentsPart II We'll Have Some Fun with this Courier Lark Won't We?I phoned Maskell when I arrived in London I anticipated that he might be reluctant to see me but it was clear that the Judge had already written or spoken to him and he greeted me enthusiastically as he did when I arrived at the door of his apartment a week laterI handed him the letter of introduction and he smiled after he read itHis apartment was sparse if elegantly furnished He led me into the lounge room where a gas heater was radiating warmth in the fireplaceWe sat opposite each other in comfortable chairsHe asked me about my taste in art When it appeared that it was modern and modernist than his he simply remarked Never mind He didn't ask me about my relationship with the Judge He seemed to know enough from the letter or their previous communicationsAfter that conversation flowed easily without either of us overtly directing it After an hour or so he looked at his watch and asked whether I'd like a cup of tea or was it too early for a gin and tonic? The latter had become my favourite summer drink and I eagerly accepted despite the time of year in the northern hemisphereAs was my habit I drank the GT fairly uickly then noticed that Maskell had too Without being asked he took my empty glass and filled both of our glasses at the bar Nicolas Poussin Eliezer And Rebecca At The WellPart III The Fizz and Swirl of the ueer LifeThough I was familiar with his past according to the newspaper accounts in the last couple of years I didn't raise it not wanting to undo the rapport we seemed to have builtInstead Maskell finally asked me into his study because he wanted to show me somethingWhen we entered I noticed a desk with an old typewriter Against the opposite wall was a couch Above the desk was a painting that I could imagine Maskell scrutinising from the comfort of the couch opposite itHe took a position at the far end of the couch and patted the cushion next to him Here he suggested Come and share the view with meThe painting was a work by his obsession Nicolas Poussin It was the one he wanted the Judge to have The Death of Seneca in truth Eliezer And Rebecca At The Well I observed it in silence Perhaps it was expected of me that I would make some kind of assessment However I suspect that Maskell realised that my opinions would be both uninformed and impressionistic Nevertheless by the end of our meeting it would be understood that I was to take it with meMaskell continued to talk of his teaching days at the Institute then placed his hand on my inner thigh It came as a surprise even though it shouldn't have given what I knew about his sexuality I noticed that for some reason I had an erection Was I reacting to some sense of imminent danger? Had he discovered or prompted some kind of repressed tendency?It was then dear reader that he undressed and buggered meAfterwards he removed the picture from its hanger wrapped it in brown paper and plastic and handed it to meWe shook hands then as I turned to go I noticed his smile again There was a sense of accomplishment in it He was coming to the end of his journey while mine had just begun


  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 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 à 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


  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 and his friends betray him His journey of exploration begins late when he has been ousted in public deserted and he tries to make sense of his life through his memoirs I imagine the exuisite agony of the caterpillar turning itself into a butterfly pushing out eye stalks pounding its fat cells into iridescent wing dust at last cracking the mother of pearl sheath and staggering upright on sticky hair's breadth legs drunken gasping dazed by the light What makes a person want to live a disguised life that the truth is elusive even to himself? This seems to be the exploration for both character and reader a uestion never really answered and one that cannot be fully explained What is both appealing and shocking is to see Victor at one stage of his life try to find his truth even at the detriment of those he love This is a grim story about betrayal and trust booze and love sexuality and personal evolution and of course spiesThe older Victor looks retrospectively at his life with remarkable calm and wisdom for someone who is incredibly turmoiled and at a cross road; his present tense narration is one I wanted to follow one I wish had grounding in the narrative Great hot waves of remembrance wash through me bringing images and sensations I would have thought I had entirely forgotten or successfully extirpated yet so sharp and vivid are they that I falter in my tracks with an inward gasp assailed by a sort of rapturous sorrow This has been a surprising fourth John Banville read for me The novel is layered in both narrative perspective and style that sometimes the switch in styles can be offsetting as if one is being thrown into another book Although it explored similar nuances of identity self and rumination like most of his novels this one had of an austere texture So far Shroud has been my favorite


  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 name Victor Maskell is a gay man who found out he was gay only after being married and having two kids This was a time when homosexuality was a crime in Britain and gay men had to resort to meetings in public restrooms One character commits suicide after he was arrested in police stingDespite the threat of blackmail by either side that being gay presented why does it seem that so many British spies were later revealed to be gay? Perhaps because of all their practice at dissimulation?Given all this it seems odd to say that first of all I found the book loaded with humor Victor is an academic an art historian and he knows King George VI personally from their meetings in libraries where King George spends his time researching architecture books Shades of Charles Prince of Wales The Soviets are interested in Victor telling them things like the King’s opinions not realizing those don’t matter; cocktail party gossip inane and this will induce hysteria in anyone who has spent time in academia “minutes from the Faculty Council meetings at Oxbridge” Victor happily gives them allWhy be a spy and betray your country? Victor’s reasons sound like all those that your teenage son came up with when he took the family car without permission OK he’s a Marxist as many intellectuals were right after the Spanish Civil War when they were still flush with enthusiasm for the proletariat But you’re betraying your country “No I’m not I’m from Northern Ireland” But you’re supporting Stalin a brutal butcher “The theology of the Church transcends a bad Pope” The Soviets are criminals “They are fighting Hitler; don’t you want to defeat Hitler?” He claims most of what he gives the Soviets is stuff he takes out of the newspapers or will shortly be in the papers Here are a few uotes that I liked illustrating the humor“Alastair heaved a happy sigh; gardeners have a particularly irritating way of sighing when they contemplate their handiwork” “the crowd was so large it had overflowed from the gallery and people were standing about the pavement in the evening sunshine drinking white wine and sneering at passers by and producing that self congratulatory low roar that is the natural collective voice of imbibers at the fount of art”“it must be a mark of true grace to be able to sit in a deckchair without looking like a discommoded frog” “The fact is the majority of us had no than the sketchiest grasp of Marxist theory We did not bother to read the texts; we had others do that for us” Much of the novel is structured as a memoir that Victor is dictating to a young woman interested in writing his biography Being a spy involves constant suspicion then and now in retrospect You can’t trust anybody Even as you look back you wonder “Was he a spy then?” “Did he know then that I was?” “Did the British know back then and were feeding him stuff to mislead the Soviets?” There is uite a diverse cast of characters The main character is a Northern Irish Protestant interacting with Catholics Jews and Russians The title “Untouchable” comes from Victor’s ability to ingratiate himself with everyone – including the Royal Family so much so that when his spying is revealed he suffers no conseuences because he even has the goods on them Until the end because there are always conseuences A good read I really enjoyed it Movie still from Bridge of Spies blu raycom


  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 love there”To achieve our own ideals we are ready to betray any ideals of the others


  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 the author should be wise and a good artist so that you see a little better where you are and maybe if you are so inclined refine your own attempts at expression through the absorption of their rhythms their vocabulary I started off with The Sea and then read The Book of Evidence and then this last one The Untouchable Banville has a few books out there which makes my heart glad I'll say this a certain inner fortitude for Banville's work is needed The portrayal of his characters is so accurate so fully human that it hurts getting to know them living in their minds choking in their own empty recognizable spaces Take Victor the main character of The Untouchables A British spy working for Russia during a period before and following World War II Forget all you've read about spies Victor is loyal to Britain and to principles that started out some noble road and then well it got complicated The thing about presenting complex characters when it is well done is that the reader sees the character's soul as through a prism where reflections of good and bad and ugly and very ugly are seen all at once in an image that breaks the whole and completes it at the same time Some characters you'd like to grab by their ears and shake into some kind of boring simplicity a steady humanity Characters who have layers upon layers of pretension of personalities they carefully present to the outside world like Banville's main characters are sometimes hard to like That's not to say that we don't empathize We don't have to like a character to empathize to understand to recoil in self reflection Fortunately Banville's characters including Victor are able at some point to see the layers of hypocrisy and are as ashamed of their shameful acts as you are for them even as they persist And isn't that the way it is with us that we know our darkness even as we grab at light here or there


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SUMMARY Å THISISWHYYOUREFESTIVE.CO.UK ☆ John Banville

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 Carre 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 à 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

READ The Untouchable

Winner 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 Chronicl 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

SUMMARY Å THISISWHYYOUREFESTIVE.CO.UK ☆ John Banville

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 instigation?As 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 façade 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

  • Paperback
  • 368
  • The Untouchable
  • John Banville
  • English
  • 10 October 2018
  • 9780679767473

About the Author: John Banville

Benjamin Black His first novel under this pen name was Christine Falls which was followed by The Silver Swan in Banville has two adult sons with his wife the American textile artist Janet Dunham They met during his visit to San Francisco in where she was a student at the University of California Berkeley Dunham described him during the writing process as being like a murderer who's just come back from a particularly bloody killing Banville has two daughters from his relationship with Patricia uinn former head of the Arts Council of IrelandBanville has a strong interest in vivisection and animal rights and is often featured in Irish media speaking out against vivisection in Irish university research.