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Victor Maskell has been betrayed: in Parliament, a revelation of his double, perhaps quadruple, life of espionage; in the press, photographs and inch-high type. But why now - as he enters his seventies, diagnosed with cancer, twenty years into "retirement" - and by whom? To figure it out before his time runs out, and in case public vindication is somehow possible, he begins to write his memoirs - to scrape away at the "toffee-coloured varnish and caked soot left by a lifetime of dissembling." Maskell's need to understand, to explain, to atone, to not atone, is what fuels John Banville's stunning new novel - trenchantly funny, vividly evocative, complex in precisely the way Maskell himself is complex: clear-sighted yet blinded by old love and desire, expertly duplicitous yet terrified that he may not have been a master of the game after all. "Who could have remained inactive in this ferocious century?" Maskell asks. Certainly not he: scholar and adventurer; military man and curator of art; breaker and keeper of codes; Royalist and Marxist; in secret service to both the Comintern and the British monarch; husband and father, and lover of men; Irishman, Englishman, man of indeterminate national alliance. Dissolution and drinking at Cambridge during the 1920s, recruitment and earnest Marxism in London during the 1930s, loyalties and ideals tested during World War II and the Cold War. It all comes back to Maskell, and he sets it down in brilliant detail and with scathing perceptiveness. But the more he remembers, the more he's compelled to wonder if these fragmented lives add up to one life entirely. After all, the attraction - and the exhilarating terror - of being a spy was that "nothing,absolutely nothing, is as it seems." Taking the Cambridge spies as his starting point for Victor Maskell, Banville quickly moves beyond the mere facts of espionage toward the intricate heart of the spy himself.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 367 pages
  • 129.54 x 203.2 x 22.86mm | 226.8g
  • Vintage Books
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0679767479
  • 9780679767473
  • 316,293

Flap copy

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
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Review quote

"Maskell takes his place with John le Carre's Alec Leamas as one of spy fiction's greatest characters. Poetic and deeply affecting." -People "[Banville's] books are not only an illuminating read--for they are always packed with information and learning--but a joyful and durable source of aesthetic satisfaction." -The New York Review of Books "Enthralling... Victor Maskell is a thinly disguised Anthony Blunt... Banville has pulled off a marvelous series of tricks." -Anita Brooker, The Spectator "Banville has the skill, ambition and learning to stand at the end of the great tradition of modernist writers." -Times Literary Supplement "It must by now be an open secret that on this [U.K.] side of the Atlantic, Banville is the most intelligent and stylish novelist at work." - George Steiner, The Observer "Banville's acute characterization and laceratingly witty prose capture perfectly the paradoxically idealistic yet cynical mood of the upper classes in 1930s Britain." -Time Out "An icy detailed portrait of a traitor, and a precise meditation on the nature of belief and betrayal... subtle, sad, and deeply moving work." - Kirkus Reviews "Delectably droll and masterful... The rich fabric of this novel blends the shrewd humor of a comedy of manners with the suspense of a tale of espionage." - Booklist "[Written with] grace and intelligence... His story is so well told that why he spied--and who betrayed him--become secondary." - Library Journal
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About John Banville

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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Rating details

2,304 ratings
3.95 out of 5 stars
5 32% (727)
4 42% (963)
3 19% (448)
2 5% (124)
1 2% (42)
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