May 15th, 2012


Book Review: The Untouchable, by John Banville

A fictional memoir based on a real-life spy, brilliant literary fiction with a gay flair but not much excitement.

The Untouchable

Macmillan, 1997, 416 pages

Victor Maskell has been betrayed. After the announcement in the Commons, the hasty revelation of his double life of wartime espionage, his photograph is all over the papers. His disgrace is public, his position as curator of the Queen’s pictures terminated… Maskell writes his own testament, in an act not unlike the restoration of one of his beloved pictures, in order for the process of verification and attribution to begin.

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Verdict: I remain lukewarm about most literary fiction, and decidedly lukewarm about John Banville, who writes circles around most genre writers but fails to give me characters I care about or a story that engages. This fictional memoir is a finely-crafted piece of historicized fiction, and Banville is a writer to study and appreciate for his gifts, but even though I like spy stories, I was left admiring but not enjoying The Untouchable.

Also by John Banville: My review of The Sea.

My complete list of book reviews.