The Secret Guests is a brilliantly entertaining, conceptually inventive, and frequently funny novel that combines Banville’s stylistic virtuosity with the excitement of a well-plotted thriller. If the first half of the novel is all atmosphere and intrigue, the second half of the book is action and adventure. The chapters are short and punchy, the writing typically deft, and the drama rapidly accelerates towards its inevitable denouement. If The Secret Guests is a sign of things to come from BW Black, then there is much to anticipate.
The book is slow to get to the thriller element, which is rather rushed at the end, but as you would expect, the writing in The Secret Guests is elegant and witty. Here’s his description of a decrepit old butler answering the phone: “He approached the apparatus at a defensive crouch, like a gladiator armed with a spear and a net, for he regarded the thing — a machine that talked! — with an abiding primitive dread.” Fans of The Crown will enjoy this playful novel.