The Untouchable John Banville

banville.jpgMost recent book I finished was The Untouchable, by John Banville (he’s Irish) ,which was insanely well written. It’s based on the life of Anthony Blunt, a British art historian and scholar of Poussin who was outed by Margaret Thatcher in 1979 as one of the circle that included Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, John Cairncross, and Donald MacLean. And for those of you who don’t live an afterlife in spy fiction, they’re all from Cambridge University, and spied for the Soviets–while also spying for Britain.

My only quibbles are that he has an abiding love for describing sunlight coming indoors (patches, shafts, rays, etc.) and uses the word “truculent” a few too many times. But apart from that … oh my God.

I have a pretty high-powered vocabulary, but I started writing down all the words I didn’t know, or wasn’t sure of.

Consider this truncated (though not truculent) list:

poniard chivvy benison
supererogatory levantine dissembled
dessicated embonpoint stertorous
recrudescence hoyden casuist
discommoded superannuated melodeon
attenuated apostasy sepulchrally
odemic flocculent oneiric
moue connubial brumous
soubrette shebeen purblind
simony quiff pudeur
quondam uxoriously raillery

Wow. Good story, amazing writing, and your vocabulary will get an all-out workout.

(In case you doubt, consider the rave from the august-sounding Virginia Quarterly Review. … the “sounding” being crossed out thanks to Waldo Jaquith’s … um … impactful-sounding comment.


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