The Untouchable

John Banville (Author)


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.

Product Details

$16.95  $15.59
Publish Date
June 30, 1998
5.12 X 0.87 X 8.07 inches | 0.61 pounds

Earn by promoting books

Earn money by sharing your favorite books through our Affiliate program.

Become an affiliate

About the Author

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.


"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