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The Untouchable

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  2,092 Ratings  ·  219 Reviews
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 subjec ...more
Paperback, 367 pages
Published June 30th 1998 by Vintage (first published 1997)
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Steve
Sep 11, 2009 Steve rated it really liked it
After reading something written so well, it’s a disappointment having only my own less eloquent 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 -- more 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 ...more
Marita
Victor Maskell started spying as
"...a flight from ennui and a search for diversion".

A marvellously bleak and cynical tale.
Srividya
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 ...more
Ian "Marvin" Graye
ALL HIGH TALK AND LOW FROLICS:

Part I ("My Other Secret Life")

I first encountered the Judge, professionally, in Court.

Early in my career, I appeared in the Family Court 400 times over two years. 50 or so appearances would have been before him.

He 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, be
...more
David
Apr 25, 2012 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Queer Marxist Soviet double-agents, people who like snoozy literary fiction
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 me.

Banville 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; alth
...more
Francisco
Aug 20, 2014 Francisco rated it it was amazing
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 T ...more
Diana
Jan 12, 2017 Diana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Недосегаемият" е от онези книги, които те поглъщат, не искаш да свършват и за които благородно завиждаш на онези, които са в началото на удоволствието. Книга, след която се страхуваш да започнеш друга, за да не налетиш на подобие на литература.
Трябва да се чете бавно, за да бъде по-дълга насладата от интересните, пълнокръвни образи, от езика и стила на писане, хумора и иронията, които Банвил ни поднася. Омесва банални, преексплоатирани теми като война, двойни агенти, английска аристокрация, нес
...more
Lewis Weinstein
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.
Bfisher
Dec 30, 2015 Bfisher rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
I liked the first part of this book more than the latter half. There is an odd sense of oh-do-let’s-be-done-with-this in the back half of this book, although there are still some great passages in the latter half.

What I enjoyed most in this book was the richness of Banville’s language. The other main point for me was the inversion of the typical espionage story. One rarely gets the traitor as protagonist, and in this case such an unpalatable character. It was refreshing, in a way.
Vit Babenco
Apr 10, 2013 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing
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.
Mark Joyce
Jun 26, 2015 Mark Joyce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A book I’d like to erase from my mind to be able to experience it all over again.

As an espionage thriller it has the mood and tawdry realism of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. But (with the greatest love and admiration for early John le Carré) this is much more than a genre novel.

I’ve seen Banville compared to Vladimir Nabokov and on the evidence of The Untouchable the comparison is not overblown. In fact I’d go as far as to submit that this as good as Lolita in the way it uses a heinous cri
...more
Петър Панчев
Историята на един шпионин
(Цялото ревю е тук: https://knijenpetar.wordpress.com/201...

Бях сигурен, че няма да ми е лесно с Джон Банвил, още повече че прочетох един доста пространен материал за личността и творчеството му, преди да започна самата книга. Всъщност прехвърлих десетина страници за настройка и след няколко дни се почувствах готов да започна с четенето. Това се случи, защото още в самото начало осъзнах, че „Недосегаемият“ („Колибри“, 2015, с превод на Иглика Василева) няма нищо общо к
...more
Frank
Feb 23, 2011 Frank rated it really liked it
Shelves: irish-authors
Like many of Banville's narrators, Victor Maskell, the eponymous "untouchable", is an art historian. The details surrounding Maskell's life roughly correspond to a conflation of Anthony Blunt (1907-83), who was exposed in 1979 as a former Soviet spy, and the Belfast-born poet, Louis MacNeice (1907-63). The form of the novel is a fictionalised memoir, written out by Maskell in the last year of his life, detailing his rise from Cambridge undergrad in the early '30s to member of the Royal Household ...more
Hugh
Jul 20, 2014 Hugh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit
This is a terrific reimagining of the life of Anthony Blunt, but although many of the historical events are shared, much of Victor Maskell's life and character is clearly fictional. I found it a bit difficult to get started, but once Maskell's mixture of stylish erudition, humour and ruthlessness became familiar, I found it enjoyable and entertaining - one of Banville's best creations.
Eleanor
Jan 04, 2016 Eleanor rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book very much and I think the ending is terrific. Fascinating to read about Anthony Blunt and find how very closely his career is followed in this fictionalisation of his life.

Banville's writing is beautiful and the pace is perfect. Highly recommended.
Lauren Albert
Jan 15, 2010 Lauren Albert rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
In the end, I found the book chilling in its portrayal of a man without authentic emotional ties. He is alienated from his children. Apparent friends have betrayed him. He doesn't even seem particularly tied to the politics that have supposedly driven him into his life as a double-agent.
Elizabeth (Alaska)
Jun 12, 2010 Elizabeth (Alaska) rated it really liked it
I first read John Banville several years ago when I picked up a mystery, Christine Falls, written under a pseudonym. By now, I remember little of that story, but I still remember that the writing was of close to literary quality rather than the somewhat less quality that is usual in the genre. I wasn't disappointed here in The Untouchable.

Several GR members have this shelved as spy/thriller, and, with the GR description, I was sort of expecting something in that vein. Well, it isn't. This is wr
...more
Daryl
Mar 01, 2010 Daryl rated it really liked it
Ambitious saga chronicling the disaffected, alienated generation coming of age in the WWI thirties (upper-class, well-educated, with no 'anchor') and their often-successful wooing by already-converted dons in their respective ivied universities such as Cambridge, Eton, Oxford. LeCarre' has already covered this ground somewhat, but this book is a 'life' of such a young man, played into his seventies and brutally illustrating the cost/benefits balance sheet of an existence predicated upon duplicit ...more
Maddy
Jul 10, 2016 Maddy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well, I have finally read a Banville novel, and it did not disappoint. The complexity of the language was exquisite, his philosophical musing on love, relationships, friendship, social structure and the need for Stoicism in our lives was interesting, to say the least.
He spent the whole novel referencing his beloved "Death of Seneca" by Poussin, I wasn't sure if this was simply a literary device to keep referencing stoicism, since Seneca was one of the great stoic philosophers, but Banville skil
...more
Mike
Oct 14, 2011 Mike rated it really liked it
An auspicious introduction for me, to this very intelligent author. In this very well crafted novel the author takes us through a fictional account of the life of a Cambridge spy during the time around World War II. The protagonist leads a double life in almost every sense of the meaning, and finds thrills in his deception, the same way he finds comfort in art, which is his another of his loves. His identity is built on lies, and those lies are both his security, and potentially his undoing. Now ...more
Bookmaniac70
Jun 24, 2015 Bookmaniac70 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Едната звездичка минус не е заради автора, а заради мен. Всеки път навлизам мудно в прозата на Банвил, когото иначе много обичам. Обикновено влизам в ритъма на стила му след 50-60 страници, но този път не можах да се настроя на тази вълна и чак като стигнах до последните страници, ми просветна колко е хубава книгата и ми се прииска да се върна от началото.

Докато пишех ревюто за "Аз чета", попаднах на някои интересни материали, които ми се искаше да бях прочела предварително. Особено препоръчвам
...more
Briynne
John Banville is a fascinating writer. This is my second try at his novels, and there seems to be quite a pattern. The writing is gorgeous, the plot interesting and gratifyingly complex, and all of the characters utterly and profoundly unsympathetic. I get the sense that the author feels a bit like it would be giving in to cheap standards to give his principle character any redeemable personality traits.

Victor Maskell, the Cambridge spy around which the story revolves, is selfish and vain almos
...more
J.
Feb 18, 2013 J. rated it liked it
Shelves: irish, fiction
This Roman à clef was published in 1997. 'The Untouchable' is based on the life of Anthony Blunt the knighted curator of the Queen's collection, director of the Courtauld Institute of Art who admitted in 1979 that he had been a soviet spy for decades. The story revolves around the infamous Cambridge ring of spies.

Anthony Blunt becomes Victor Maskell. Guy Burgess becomes Boy Bannister a promiscuous homosexual and flamboyant drinker. Another interesting addition is Querrell , the Roman Catholic no
...more
Terry
Feb 21, 2016 Terry rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I have read in quite some time, ‘The Untouchables’ demonstrates why Banville is a top modern novelist. The plot differs from your standard best-selling spy book in that it seems inconsequential. There is no great tension on what secrets he will uncover or whether he will be caught or shot. There are no car chases and guns are more rumor than reality. Even though the time period includes the London bombing by the Nazis, the fall out is not what you’d expect. In this case, th ...more
Justin Evans
Dec 13, 2012 Justin Evans rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
The first fifteen pages were awful--all first person narrative with a seemingly infinite supply of sentence fragments (get it? Because, like, people who aren't novelists can't write in full sentences?) Then it got really, really good for 50 pages. Then I realized that this book, ostensibly an interesting spy story, is in fact sub-standard Henry James narrated by a cynical aesthete who doesn't really believe that art can do anything for anyone. At that point I stopped caring, and read on only bec ...more
Jean Carlton
Dec 30, 2015 Jean Carlton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ireland, history
Where to start...I love Banville's writing. I don't know much about spies or WWII but understanding that part of it didn't seem terribly important to me. It's his prose. Yes. Lots of words to look up if you need to but context worked fine for me. I dog-eared many pages and underlined favorite descriptions throughout...especially those of people. A favorite:
"Without warning the door flew open and Mrs. Brevoort stood there in her Sarah Bernhardt pose, a hand on the knob and her head thrown back, h
...more
Richard
Jan 21, 2014 Richard rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Spy-thriller readers, anyone who likes intelligent analysis of character
Recommended to Richard by: Banville's other books already read
This is the fourth Banville novel I've read this month. It shows the attentiveness to history evident in COPERNICUS and KEPLER, and its narrator Victor Mask ell shares characteristics with that of THE SEA. THE UNTOUCHABLE fictionalizes the British spy ring in which Anthony Blunt, the art historian and Royal appointee was the "fourth man," unmasked for years after the defection of Donald McLean ("the dour Scot") and Guy Burgess ('Boy") with the aid of Kim Philby (Nick, the MP; Querell, the Le Car ...more
Hamish
Feb 13, 2014 Hamish rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit
Probably his best book. The prose isn't as ostentatiously ornate as in a lot of his other work. Not that there's anything wrong with ornate prose, but in Banville's case it can get so Nabokovian that it almost feels like plagiarism. Here he reins it in a bit, only without losing any of the best elements of his more ornate stuff. It's still full of perfectly chosen details and words. Extremely vivid. I feel like I use that word in almost all of my complimentary reviews, but that's because vividne ...more
Philipp
Jan 22, 2016 Philipp rated it liked it
Shelves: spy
Ever heard of the Cambridge Spy Ring? (I assume that one's better known inside the borders of the UK)

The Untouchable is the memoirs of an ex-double agent, part of British upper class, and during university part of a raucous group of students. The focus of the novel is around that group - some of them are recruited to hand secrets to the Soviets during university since they're all young Marxists, and many of them stay spies (including the narrator), even after they're disenchanted with the Sovie
...more
Ugh
Feb 19, 2012 Ugh rated it it was amazing
I didn't know anything about the real-life events behind this - I'm a little curious but not at all concerned how much of it was fact and how much fiction - I was content simply to enjoy it as a stand-alone work, and enjoy it I did.
All the elements were promising - a world-weary English(ish)man for a main character, a WWII backdrop, a healthy dollop of debauched high society, and a bit of a spy mystery driving the narrative - but it would all have been for nothing without the right delivery, and
...more
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Anyone reading The Untouchable? 7 25 May 12, 2015 03:03AM  
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Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland. His father worked in a garage and died when Banville was in his early thirties; his mother was a housewife. He is the youngest of three siblings; his older brother Vincent is also a novelist and has written under the name Vincent Lawrence as well as his own. His sister Vonnie Banville-Evans has written both a children's novel and a reminiscence of growing up ...more
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“To take possession of a city of which you are not a native you must first fall in love there.” 13 likes
“The telephone ringing gave me a dreadful start. I have never got used to this machine, the way it crouches so malevolently, ready to start clamouring for attention when you least expect it, like a mad baby.” 7 likes
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