Banville has the ability to get deeply inside a character and that makes him the perfect author to tackle the tale of the double-agent Victor Maskell. Once inside though, he is quite appropriately only showing you what he wants you to see.
This is not a novel for those who like to have everything told them up front. This is a slow burn. You’ll need patience to make any sense of obscure references dropped here and there. Were life longer, I’d recommend a second reading.
But once things start to warm up just before about halfway, you find yourself drawn in, a party to secrets you cannot unknow. But no one is going to have to die because you know more than you should. Although Maskell reveals both state and personal secrets, it’s not hard to see that in reality neither his Russian contacts nor his readers find it of any real value.
Maskell is thus revealed to be a less than reliable narrator which is, after all, only as it should be. Banville has struck the tone of this so perfectly that you’re left wondering whether Maskell is simply a pitiful peddler of his own self-important illusions or whether you too have just been deceived.