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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 retrace. 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

characters The Untouchable

The Untouchable

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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S 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. 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 himselfNo 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 itTo 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 WeI 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 tendencyIt 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 The Art of DOOM: Eternal recruitment at Cambridge to the airless upper The Protestant Temperament 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. 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 Some Kind of Wonderful 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 Cabin 28 rely on to do his jobI Life Reset: EvP (Environment vs. Player): New Era Online Series, Book 2 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 সোনালী দিন যায় 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 himselfNo 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 Native Son 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 Vampir Broken Heart (Broken Heart, rather than simply supply answers to someone else s probing uestions He wants to paint his own picture make his own self portrait C++ Primer Plus rather than sit for someone else s versionLike everybody else Miss Vandeleur just wants to know Why did you do itTo which Maskell Murder In Elysium 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 Snips, Snails, and Dragon Tales (The Order of the Stick, 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 Baby Faces 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 Kinky Mom real Solution Manual for Organic Chemistry 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 Finding Home (Rollin On, 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 Bianco Rosso E Veronelli rationale behind support of a آثار الحق جلد اول revolutionary cause Though Maskell himself is of a theorist than an activist Even then he Kayak Craft 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 آثار الحق جلد دوم rules of order and harmony by which art works a society in which the artist would no longer be dilettante or Wind/ Pinball romantic WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 rebel pariah or parasite a society whose art would be deeply Mistakes I Made at Work 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 WeI phoned Maskell when I arrived in London I anticipated that he might be The Card Slingers of the Biloxi Royale 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 Body Shot (The Dojo, read itHis apartment was sparse if elegantly furnished He led me into the lounge Once upon a Mulberry Field room where a gas heater was Mate Hunt (Dragonmen, 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 Junior Hero Blues remarked Never mind He didn t ask me about my Banged by Daddys Best Friend 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 Black Gold raise it not wanting to undo the OMG! So Taboo! 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 The Fortune Teller (Constantin Vadim, 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 Secret Histories (Young Repairman Jack, reason I had an erection Was I Put Me On The Potty Mommy - A Kids Book On Potty Training The Fun Way reacting to some sense of imminent danger Had he discovered or prompted some kind of Galina repressed tendencyIt was then dear You Cant See Your Bones With Binoculars reader that he undressed and buggered meAfterwards he جای خالی سلوچ 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


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

  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

  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 o

  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

  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

  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 ouste

  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

  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

  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

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