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A literary sensation and bestseller both in England and America, The Swimming-Pool Library is an enthralling, darkly erotic novel of homosexuality before the scourge of AIDS; an elegy, possessed of chilling clarity, for ways of life that can no longer be lived with impunity. "Impeccably composed and meticulously particular in its observation of everything" (Harpers & Queen A literary sensation and bestseller both in England and America, The Swimming-Pool Library is an enthralling, darkly erotic novel of homosexuality before the scourge of AIDS; an elegy, possessed of chilling clarity, for ways of life that can no longer be lived with impunity. "Impeccably composed and meticulously particular in its observation of everything" (Harpers & Queen), it focuses on the friendship of two men: William Beckwith, a young gay aristocrat who leads a life of privilege and promiscuity, and the elderly Lord Nantwich, an old Africa hand, searching for someone to write his biography and inherit his traditions.


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A literary sensation and bestseller both in England and America, The Swimming-Pool Library is an enthralling, darkly erotic novel of homosexuality before the scourge of AIDS; an elegy, possessed of chilling clarity, for ways of life that can no longer be lived with impunity. "Impeccably composed and meticulously particular in its observation of everything" (Harpers & Queen A literary sensation and bestseller both in England and America, The Swimming-Pool Library is an enthralling, darkly erotic novel of homosexuality before the scourge of AIDS; an elegy, possessed of chilling clarity, for ways of life that can no longer be lived with impunity. "Impeccably composed and meticulously particular in its observation of everything" (Harpers & Queen), it focuses on the friendship of two men: William Beckwith, a young gay aristocrat who leads a life of privilege and promiscuity, and the elderly Lord Nantwich, an old Africa hand, searching for someone to write his biography and inherit his traditions.

30 review for The Swimming-Pool Library

  1. 4 out of 5

    mark monday

    i'll start off with a blanket statement: many novels of the Gay Fiction subgenre will fall within two categories. 1. Coming of Age Tales in which the protagonist struggles to come out, often against his unsympathetic surroundings. often tender; occasionally mawkish. 2. a category that i like to call Gay World Novels in which, oh, everyone is pretty much gay. fine. dream on, gays, dream on. if you can't live it...dream it! to me, the self-relegation of most gay novels between these two categories i'll start off with a blanket statement: many novels of the Gay Fiction subgenre will fall within two categories. 1. Coming of Age Tales in which the protagonist struggles to come out, often against his unsympathetic surroundings. often tender; occasionally mawkish. 2. a category that i like to call Gay World Novels in which, oh, everyone is pretty much gay. fine. dream on, gays, dream on. if you can't live it...dream it! to me, the self-relegation of most gay novels between these two categories can be annoying, but i suppose understandable. gays have to come out of the closet and so this intense experience is perfectly paired with the classic coming-of-age tale's structure. and gays are also often rejected by straight society, so why not rejoice in the telling of tales that in turn reject that straight world, that rolls its eyes at it, that have narratives that seem to posit that straights are the actual minority? Swimming-Pool falls squarely within that second category. the novel is about a repulsive and useless parasite, a shallow and superficial upper-class twit obsessed solely with sex, entirely without any qualities whatsoever except, i suppose, his aristocratic lineage and his apparently smashing good looks and large endowment. unfortunately, the protagonist somehow thinks that he's not a complete waste of space. even more unfortunately, the author seems to think that he's not so bad, that his thoughts and interests and obsessions and general behavior are not completely infantile and boring. well, i beg to differ, hollinghurst! this is a book of so many wasted opportunities that it becomes truly disgusting. the writer knows how to write: his style is elegant and subtle and full of long, brave sentences and carefully drawn mysteries and surprisingly ambiguous characterization. and he throws it all away by writing about a world THAT CARES ABOUT NOTHING EXCEPT FOR SEX. give me a fucking break, hollinghurst! is this how you see gay people? do they think of nothing but checking people out, eyeing the package of every single dude that crosses their path, rating each body, ignoring all women, living for moments that are only about the interwining of bodies, the randomly chosen hook-up, the spilling of various fluids? do they not have other thoughts, have they no other interests, no other inner or outer life? do their interior monologues consist of nothing but the drooling study of the beauty of the male form? are they incapable of even the slightest depth? do all gays live to celebrate the flesh, and for nothing else whatsoever? when our narrator greets his long-lost lover by ripping his pants down and burying his face in his ass, is this supposed to be palpably romantic rather than absurd and farcical? the novel wastes a golden opportunity in the story of the elderly and very gay Lord Nantwich, whose diaries the protagonist is working his way through as he considers writing a bio of the lord's life. learning about this elderly gent's story could have been fascinating - a tale of england's colonial past, adventures in africa, a recounting of london during some very interesting times, all seen through the lense of an upper class gay outsider. but 'tis not to be. like the narrator of the present, Lord Nantwich is magically surrounded by gay acquaintances and probably-gay-or-maybe-bisexual african natives. almost every single person that either character meets, past or present, is gay or probably-gay-or-bisexual. and even worse, and much like the narrator of the present, Lord Nantwich is also disinterested in recounting anything whatsoever that isn't about getting off and ogling all the gay chaps around him. such a potentially vivid life and all he is primarily interested in is getting some action? both characters are resoundingly pathetic - and yet hollinghurst appears to think there is something brave about Lord Nantwich and something charming about our feckless, pointless narrator. at one point, the protagonist idly thumbs through his best friend's diary. naturally, his best friend is also obsessed with sex. i guess that's how gays are, right? they simply have no other interests. there was one thing that consistently amused me, in a good way: the effete and fatuous queen of a lead character is also a rough, tough top. i like that! it is always interesting when expectations and stereotypes are subverted. sadly, those instances are the only examples of any kind of subversiveness. a part of the novel that struck me as particularly foul was the sexualization of kids. yes, kids can be sexual, i know this of course. but almost an entire chapter devoted to salivating over a junior boxing championship? a short sequence where the narrator describes a family man lovingly patting his child while also lovingly caressing his own hard-on - described as some kind of deep connection...seriously, hollinghurst? the title is laughable. the narrator's constant presence at the local english equivalent of the ymca swimming pool is metaphorically (?) tied to his dreamy past hooking up with guys in the school swimming pool, both of which are thematically (?) linked up with Lord Nantwich's rather more hedonistic private pool. that is some serious over-reaching there, hollinghurst. the novel has a deeply creepy obsession with race. specifically, blacks. Lord Nantwich is obsessed by them, both africans and african-american soldiers he meets. this is presented with some slight critical distance, but you know what? "slight critical distance" is not enough when the attitude being presented is so barkingly colonial and condescending that it becomes downright repulsive. our charmless hero also starts out with a black boyfriend and much is made of that character's stereotypical, lower-class 'blackness' and, naturally, his dangerous life in the projects. that's how blacks are, right? they are either innocent, wide-eyed africans or sexy, violent thugs. and of course the best friend also has his own love of black men - well, their dicks, that is. reading all about an insufferable, body-worshipping twit of a protagonist and an elderly upper-class jackass who lives to objectify eventually made me want to commit some bodily harm on both of them. when the narrator eventually gets his ass kicked, i couldn't help but think well finally he is getting a dose of some sort of reality that has nothing to do with worship of the male body or getting fucked. my gosh, i just hated this novel. a little self-disclosure here. i'm a bi guy. i was out to a select group in high school. i was out to the world in college. i helped start the second iteration of Act-Up San Diego. when i was younger and better looking, i whored myself out a bit (now there's a fun fact). i used to volunteer for gay men dying of hiv. now i work for an agency whose clientele is well over half gay. i've gone to jail protesting for the right of gay marriage and the rights of gay teachers to teach children. i think my queer credibility is pretty much impeccable. and i say all this, not just to provide personal context, but mainly because i do not want this review to give the impression that there is any kind of lurking, bottled-up self-hate or any negative attitude towards gay sexuality involved in my rejection of this appalling novel. although i am not a big part of the gay community, i celebrate it and of course am a proud member. but there is nothing to celebrate about this novel. it was a revolting, depressing, infuriating experience for me. apparently The Swimming-Pool Library is considered to be some kind of modern gay classic. that does a profound disservice to the genuinely complex and challenging works and the truly sensitive and moving narratives that exist in this often wonderful subgenre.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Fabian

    A wonderful romp around Londontown, arguably the gayest city in all of Europe! The novel is exquisite, very smartly titled (Swimming-pool implies the superficial aspect of the gay scene, Library implies all that is intelligent and witty: the book is a merger of these both). It's at once overly-sensual & incredibly literary. “The Line of Beauty” seems to be the culmination of Alan Hollinghurst’s steamy/cranial poetics… this then is barely but a stepping stone toward that epic saga (the Booker winn A wonderful romp around Londontown, arguably the gayest city in all of Europe! The novel is exquisite, very smartly titled (Swimming-pool implies the superficial aspect of the gay scene, Library implies all that is intelligent and witty: the book is a merger of these both). It's at once overly-sensual & incredibly literary. “The Line of Beauty” seems to be the culmination of Alan Hollinghurst’s steamy/cranial poetics… this then is barely but a stepping stone toward that epic saga (the Booker winner was turned into a monolithic miniseries by the BBC!). This is a novel of paramount importance: it is a historical document which embodies the livid spirit of the gay scene back in the 1980's, before AIDS, before pretty much stuff like this gave homosexuals a bad rap. It is one-of-a-kind, written eloquently, written with a focus on that elusive antihero: our gay leading man.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    The plot was only intermittently absorbing, but the narrator's tones are utterly addictive. I can't get enough of Hollingburst's style. It can delicately register so many things--shades of emotion, nuances of intellection, as well as symphonies of physical movement, as in the suburban boxing tournament--but never sounds fussy or over-elaborate; very solid and quick, a model for anyone. I wasn't sure if the rather stark contrast between the rich emotion of Lord Nantwich's old diaries and the seni The plot was only intermittently absorbing, but the narrator's tones are utterly addictive. I can't get enough of Hollingburst's style. It can delicately register so many things--shades of emotion, nuances of intellection, as well as symphonies of physical movement, as in the suburban boxing tournament--but never sounds fussy or over-elaborate; very solid and quick, a model for anyone. I wasn't sure if the rather stark contrast between the rich emotion of Lord Nantwich's old diaries and the senile, muddled form he took during the present-day of the narration was intentional or not. Nantwich never caught on with me, he seemed so blurry and not-there; but as I said, maybe that was the point, Hollinghurst wishing to remind us that complex submerged past lives lie beneath the vague blandness of manner exhibited by the elderly. The samples of Nantwich's diaries can be heartbreaking, especially the scene in prison when he's told of Taha's murder by a smirking warden, and the recounting of the subsequent torpor and despair. It's all so well done. I haven't been struck like that in a long time. And the old home movie of Ronald Firbank walking down an Italian road had me gazing wistfully out the window. The account of the film felt rather tacked-on and random, but it was also one of the more sad and memorable things in the entire book. Amazing how he does it. I'm so happy that Hollinghurst has two more novels that I have yet to read. He and Richard Yates are my revelations of 2008.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Shovelmonkey1

    This book is tricksily misleading on a number of fronts. It has been described as deeply thrilling and darkly erotic. I think I might have missed something then.... at first appearance it's a breezy but self obsessed commentary by flirtatious man about town, William Beckwith; young, moneyed, unscrupulous, charming and gay. The narrative is archly upper class with frequent references to private mens clubs such as the Corinthian and the Athenaeum. The characters are foppish and callow, self servin This book is tricksily misleading on a number of fronts. It has been described as deeply thrilling and darkly erotic. I think I might have missed something then.... at first appearance it's a breezy but self obsessed commentary by flirtatious man about town, William Beckwith; young, moneyed, unscrupulous, charming and gay. The narrative is archly upper class with frequent references to private mens clubs such as the Corinthian and the Athenaeum. The characters are foppish and callow, self serving and frivolous. This is the sort of thing you can get away with when you're hideously moneyed apparently. The prose is written in such a way that it took me about 50 pages (until the mention of Bucks Fizz - the pop group not the drink), to work out that this book is set in the 1980's. The plumy language and "old school tie" networking really leads you to believe that the setting is the 1920's or 30's and the lives, loves and language would not be out of place in an Evelyn Waugh novel. Or maybe that was just me and I have read too much Waugh and Wilde of late. The principle character is presented as a watered down version of Boy Mulcaster and Anthony Blanche after they've been through a blender together. However this book has a moral agenda - sort of, a history lesson and hidden depths. William is approached by Lord Nantwich, a man whose life he had previously saved while loitering in a public lavatory, to write his biography and through the research and reading Nantwich's diaries he uncovers elements of a sad and unpleasant past, previously hidden to him. I've given this book to two gay friends to read. They both hated it but were not able to explain why and while I continued to turn the pages until the very end, it did not have a profound enough effect to make me read any of more of Hollinghurst's work.

  5. 4 out of 5

    LenaRibka

    This book is extremely good written. Very erotic and very gay-ish. It could have had 50 pages less or 100 pages more, it wouldn't have had any influence on the storyline. (What a storyline?!) It doesn't have a typical beginning, culminating and ending. Here the journey itself is a destination. It is for sure a book I'd like to re-read some day and invest more time in it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mark Joyce

    Given the number of sex scenes that Alan Hollinghurst crams into his books (approximately one every other page) you'd think it would be more enjoyable for him as well as the reader to inject a bit of variation. In fact they all follow broadly the same template: lingering description of a younger man's abs/chest/arse; comparative analysis of cock size and appearance; followed by a rough penetration in which the narcissistic central character is invariably in the "active" role. Sometimes if he's f Given the number of sex scenes that Alan Hollinghurst crams into his books (approximately one every other page) you'd think it would be more enjoyable for him as well as the reader to inject a bit of variation. In fact they all follow broadly the same template: lingering description of a younger man's abs/chest/arse; comparative analysis of cock size and appearance; followed by a rough penetration in which the narcissistic central character is invariably in the "active" role. Sometimes if he's feeling particularly expansive he'll throw in a rimming. As a result, the experience of reading The Swimming Pool Library is a bit like flicking through somebody else's Grindr account - vicariously interesting for about five minutes, quickly becoming repetitive and not a little depressing. In contrast to the excellent Line of Beauty, which takes place at the height of the AIDS epidemic, The Swimming Pool Library is set in the early 1980s at which time it was apparently still possible to have daily unprotected sex with strangers with no adverse physical health effects other than the occasional beating by right-wing skinheads. Not as fun as it sounds if this book is anything to go by. In fairness to the author, the book's title strongly suggests that this is supposed to be a not entirely flattering portrayal of the superficiality of a certain type of urban, physical beauty-obsessed gay scene. So the joyless repetitiveness and preening self-absorption is clearly deliberate and intended to make a point. Fair enough. But for this reader at least the point had been well made by about the 20% mark, after which the book really needed to go in some new directions. By 70% it still hadn't, at which stage I couldn't summon sufficient interest in the characters to read any further.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    I need to stop doing this thing of, when I'm completely taken with a novel by a writer I've never read before, running out and instantly reading something else by that writer. It's just too much pressure, and I always wind up all pissed-off and disappointed. This has recently happened with Patrick Hamilton, Martin Amis, and now, Alan Hollinghurst – is there something about these Brits that they don’t make good second dates? When I read The Line of Beauty I loved it so much I was sick. Naturally I need to stop doing this thing of, when I'm completely taken with a novel by a writer I've never read before, running out and instantly reading something else by that writer. It's just too much pressure, and I always wind up all pissed-off and disappointed. This has recently happened with Patrick Hamilton, Martin Amis, and now, Alan Hollinghurst – is there something about these Brits that they don’t make good second dates? When I read The Line of Beauty I loved it so much I was sick. Naturally I ran out that week and bought The Swimming-Pool Library, but I think I wanted too much, and was keyed up too high…. maybe it's too much to ask an author's first novel to deliver in the face of those expectations. All this is not to suggest that The Swimming-Pool Library is not gorgeously written or at all without merit. There were a lot of good things about this book, and his descriptions of the club where he swims were so lovely and evocative that I actually looked into joining the Y, thinking that getting into lap swimming might be the secret to surviving a miserable winter. I'd probably not follow his example to the point of staring hungrily at other gym members' genitals in the shower, but who knows... Anyway, I didn't wind up joining the YMCA, and I've also decided, on page 112, to bail on this book. To be fair, I've been extraordinarily cranky and picky lately, and nothing I read has satisfied me at all. The issue I had here was with the odious narrator. It's not like I need to become besties with whoever is telling the story, but writing a novel about an unlikeable person is tough, and for me, in this case, it just didn't work. The book is about a rich, lazy, snob who doesn't have to go to work or do anything, who just sort of shambles aimlessly around London reading books, working out, and fucking everything that moves. Since this is more or less how I’d like to live my own life, but can’t, I resented the character, who also seemed like a spoiled egomaniac without redeeming qualities. I wasn't interested in his thoughts or what happened to him, which is usually a deal breaker for loving a novel. Maybe if I'd stuck with this longer, I would've developed feelings beyond bored irritation. Hollinghurst certainly is a fantastic writer, but for me he was not fantastic enough in 1988 to overcome my desire to smack his main character in the side of the head. I spend enough time already dealing with dull, entitled people who bore me, and I'm not sure why I should subject myself to them in fiction. I suspect that Hollinghurst was aware of potential for this response from readers, as in The Line of Beauty the main character is a striver who doesn’t really belong in the elite world that he describes. Must class resentment interfere with readers’ enjoyment of fiction? No, of course not: a lot of my favorite books are about idle rich people. It does require extra authorial skills to effect that empathy, though, and for me, with this book, it just didn’t happen. Also, it wasn’t just that he’s rich, it’s that I really don’t like him. Again, this book isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. However, I’m not enjoying it, so I’m putting it down.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Seth

    While I was reading The Swimming-Pool Library, I kept thinking of a really dumb phrase: "It's like déjà vu all over again." This was, of course, literally true, in the sense that I'd read the book before and remembered the basic setup. The narrator, Will Beckwith, leads an aimless life in 1980s London - a life that centers on swimming, clubbing, and a whole lot of fucking. His routine is disrupted when he meets an elderly peer who asks Will to read through his papers, with an eye to writing his b While I was reading The Swimming-Pool Library, I kept thinking of a really dumb phrase: "It's like déjà vu all over again." This was, of course, literally true, in the sense that I'd read the book before and remembered the basic setup. The narrator, Will Beckwith, leads an aimless life in 1980s London - a life that centers on swimming, clubbing, and a whole lot of fucking. His routine is disrupted when he meets an elderly peer who asks Will to read through his papers, with an eye to writing his biography. This sets Will on a voyage of discovery... ...a voyage that ultimately doesn't amount to much of anything. My sense of déjà vu also had another source. Consider: A self-obsessed narrator who talks endlessly about sex. Sex scenes that are, more than anything else, farcical. An older man with a hidden agenda. An awkward encounter in a hotel room. The realization that people are, well, kind of phony. If you're thinking you've heard this story before, you're right: first, as told by J.D. Salinger, and then as re-imagined by Martin Amis. (Hollinghurst lifts his best gag from Salinger, in the way that Will keeps encountering gross smells, particularly the reek of cheap cologne.) The Swimming-Pool Library is a novel that can be read very seriously, as a sort of elegy for a vanished way of (gay) life. Early on, it's established that Will is telling his story in flashback, remembering "that summer, the last summer of its kind there was ever to be..." Hollinghurst has said that he originally conceived the novel as the deathbed confession of a gay man dying from AIDS, and this is still visible in the text, where it's strongly implied that (view spoiler)[Colin, the undercover police officer Will picks up on the Tube, is HIV-positive (hide spoiler)] . While this reading isn't wrong, it kind of misses the point. Because The Swimming-Pool Library is very much a comic novel, full of ironic twists and missed encounters and darkly funny moments. (See: the scene in the pornographic movie theater, the scene in Phil's dorm room, and many others.) Like Holden Caulfield and Charles Highway before him, Will is an exaggerated (and particularly hapless) stand-in for us, the readers - and a reminder that the only fitting response to life's absurdity is, of course, laughter.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mara

    One star, partly as revenge for making me read the phrase "I very much wanted to fuck his big, muscly bum." That wasn't actually the worst line, but the others were too racist to be quite so funny. I really hated this narrator, can you tell?

  10. 4 out of 5

    Francisco

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I found Hollinghurst's novel to be very enthralling and wonderfully erotic. It's such a fantastic exploration of what it was like to be a part of the gay community in the early 1980s, before AIDS altered the community and its image forever. From my perspective, very recently influenced by some serious thought about the West Indian community in London, The Swimming-Pool Library struck me as a fascinating perspective: how did the majority view the other, especially an other that was as highly sexua I found Hollinghurst's novel to be very enthralling and wonderfully erotic. It's such a fantastic exploration of what it was like to be a part of the gay community in the early 1980s, before AIDS altered the community and its image forever. From my perspective, very recently influenced by some serious thought about the West Indian community in London, The Swimming-Pool Library struck me as a fascinating perspective: how did the majority view the other, especially an other that was as highly sexualized as West Indians in London? It seems that both men and women saw found them exotic and highly attractive; but the attraction was more than simply desire--it seemed rapacious and almost imperialistic. Will Beckwith, the main character, has a very lusty, admirable sexual appetite. However, his tendency to exoticize and take advantage of men younger than him--especially young men of color in the London he knows--is something that I can't admire or approve of. Still, this lustiness is something that Hollinghurst attributes to the age and the race of the title character, not necessarily something to be applauded. It needs to be remembered that Will is elitist, rich, unabashedly egotistical and fairly narcissistic, and, as is noted by a character at one of the clubs (if only I had the book with me right now!), it is quite in vogue for the white men in London to score a young West Indian or African man. Will and his boyfriend at the time, Phil (both are in the club), are assumed to be on the prowl for some "brown," as one of Will's former flames refers to the "white hunger" of the time. I definitely don't think that Hollinghurst was very critical of Will in the text--at least not in an overly visible or emphatic way. However, he certainly expected the reader to be. His sympathetic yet unembellished portrayal of Will is very much done to give the reader the independence to decide on Will's actions and thoughts. Is he nothing but a narcissist? The reader is forced to look critically on Will as an Oxford graduate and as the grandson of a Peer of the British Empire. His boyfriends are all lower class, and he seems to sometimes ruthlessly exploit them. Hollinghurst, as I said earlier, doesn't visibly admonish Will, but he doesn't excuse his actions either. The scene when Will is gay-bashed is heart-wrenching. Especially because bashing still happens today, the sheer violence and physicality of the scene is astounding. The way that Will zones out lends the scene a surreality that is hard to stomach. In fact, all of the scenes where Hollinghurst delves into discrimination and violence against the gay community is very well written and elicits very, very strong sympathy from me (is it only because these situations hit so close to home for so many of us? would these scenes seem as tragic to a straight person? to a homophobe? to a "love the sinner hate the sin" type?). When Will reads about Lord Nantwitch's arrest and trial, the reader is pulled into a meditation on the genealogy of oppression that has done so much harm to the community. When we arrive at James' arrest and the subsequent removal of any evidence implicating the arresting officer as a fellow--but quite closeted, apparently--gay, we readers are essentially asked to acknowledge and rail against the very blatant and disgusting discrimination. [Historical note (full disclosure - I had to look this one up to remember it. All I remembered was Ian McKellen's role in the protests): Section 28 was passed in England in 1988, but was proposed, debated, protested, and hotly contested all through the mid 80s. (link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_28). Hollinghurst was writing throughout this era (TSPL was published in 1988, as a matter of fact), and it would be fairly ignorant of me to avoid this fact. Interestingly enough, Section 28 ensured that novels like The Swimming-Pool Library wouldn't be distributed by local authorities, and would very likely not be found on public & municipal library shelves.] The Swimming-Pool Library was without a doubt a very entertaining and enlightening read. It was also exciting to read a book that was very unashamed of its homoeroticism. Finally, a great book that titillates those of us who feel faint (or quite visceral) disgust at heterosexuals slobbering all over each other in literature--take that, straight America! The reason I rated this book a 4/5, though, is that I'm fairly unsure of whether or not every reader will approach the text with a critical eye towards is very prominent--but curiously latent--approach to race and class, which I discussed earlier. But you know what, I've decided to change my review. What a terrible reason to lower a book's rating! As of now, 5/5 for The Swimming-Pool Library!!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa Wu

    You never stop learning a language, which is why I buy two unabridged English novels from Audible every month and listen to them with as much concentration as I can muster. Style is very important. I don't like to listen to bad style. So I choose very carefully what I listen to. Those books become like voices in my head. I absorb every cadence. I internalise, verbalise and repeat. Finally I have found time for Alan Hollinghurst. He's been on my list for a long time because everybody in the litera You never stop learning a language, which is why I buy two unabridged English novels from Audible every month and listen to them with as much concentration as I can muster. Style is very important. I don't like to listen to bad style. So I choose very carefully what I listen to. Those books become like voices in my head. I absorb every cadence. I internalise, verbalise and repeat. Finally I have found time for Alan Hollinghurst. He's been on my list for a long time because everybody in the literary establishment says what a fine style he has. I agree. He has a very fine English style. He also has a delicate sensibility. He has a beautiful sense of irony. He is mischievous, cheeky and arch, while at the same time having a coy vulnerability. Let's listen in on the secret thoughts of his narrator, William Beckwith, as he goes back to the hotel of his latest pick-up, an athletic young boy called Phil: I was so lucky in general, so blessed, that my pick-ups were virtually instantaneous: the man I fancied took in my body, my cock, my blue eyes at a glance. Misunderstandings were almost unknown. Any uncertainty in a boy I wanted was usually overcome by the simple insistence of my look. But with Phil I had let something dangerous happen, a roundabout, slow insinuation into my feelings. Though I very much wanted to fuck his big, muscly bum – and several times dropped behind a step or two to see it working as he walked – my stronger feeling was more protective and caressing. It was growing so strong that it allowed doubts not entertained in the brief certainties of casual sex. If I had got it all wrong, if going back to his place meant a drink in the bar, a game of chess, a handshake – 'I've got an early start tomorrow' – the evening would be agony. Already I dreamt up headaches, queazy tums, excuses for dullness and an early escape; and I was so tense that as I did so I even began to feel the symptoms. I wish I could quote more but already there is a lot going on. Hollinghurst takes a cliché of romantic fiction and gives it several ironic twists. The cliché in this case is that of the serial philanderer who meets our heroine and is reformed by love. Here the philanderer is a gay man. This is a beautiful twist. But he is also the narrator, which is another twist. We are asked to identify with the philanderer. To make it even more piquant, the philanderer is an aristocratic English gentleman who has been brought up in the finest English traditions – the traditions of queazy tums and other feeble excuses. Hollinghurst's ironies are best enjoyed in longer passages than this. But his ironies would be empty without the delicious observational details – I very much wanted to fuck his big, muscly bum – and several times dropped behind a step or two to see it working as he walked which make listening or reading to him such a joy. Excellent English style is not just about vocabulary, word order and syntax. It is about something that is very hard to teach. It is something that perhaps you are born with, I don't know, or that you have to absorb and acquire in the nursery. It's about sensibility. I'm hoping that having this voice in my head will help me acquire a refined English sensibility. My only worry is that this particularly wicked, arch and mischievous voice will corrupt me and have me thinking about cocks and bums far more than is good for me.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    I read this book because it's on a lot of "Best Gay Novel" lists. At first I thought it made the lists because there's a ton of sex in it. Maybe that's part of it. I ended up feeling like Will Beckwith was a very thought-provoking character. Will has no occupation and no responsibilities. He's rich, young, extremely attractive and overwhelmingly motivated by sex. It's pretty much the only driving force in his life. Consequently, the world through Will's eyes is not just AIDS-free, it's womanless I read this book because it's on a lot of "Best Gay Novel" lists. At first I thought it made the lists because there's a ton of sex in it. Maybe that's part of it. I ended up feeling like Will Beckwith was a very thought-provoking character. Will has no occupation and no responsibilities. He's rich, young, extremely attractive and overwhelmingly motivated by sex. It's pretty much the only driving force in his life. Consequently, the world through Will's eyes is not just AIDS-free, it's womanless and 95% gay. Kinda weird, but it definitely fit the character. I can't say I liked Will all that much, but I didn't hate him either. Hollinghurst did an amazing job of empowering the reader to decide how to feel about his protagonist. You can almost always tell exactly how the author wants you to feel about the main character. Not in this case. It's difficult for a writer remain perfectly neutral. You really have to trust the reader. In that way, this book reminds me of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. There was one scene that didn't work for me, but I still thought it was brilliant.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Brown Girl Reading

    This book was brilliantly written. I loved the snarky, literary writing style. I wasn't attached to any of the characters but the story itself held my attention very closely. Hollinghurst covers a plethora of themes such as homophobia, while comparing homosexuality before and after the gay liberation movement. Will, the main character, is filthy rich and a hopeless whore. He's extremely attractive and doesn't have to work. A big part of this book covers a diary that Will is reading and those eve This book was brilliantly written. I loved the snarky, literary writing style. I wasn't attached to any of the characters but the story itself held my attention very closely. Hollinghurst covers a plethora of themes such as homophobia, while comparing homosexuality before and after the gay liberation movement. Will, the main character, is filthy rich and a hopeless whore. He's extremely attractive and doesn't have to work. A big part of this book covers a diary that Will is reading and those events are juxtaposed with events that are happening to Will and his friends. The title the swimming pool library refers to the changing room i.e. a place where Will and his friends would have unauthorized sex. Fascinating the way Hollinghurst put this book together and well worth the read for it's story and themes but also for Hollinghurst's rich, exhaustive writing style.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Holland

    Sensationally sexy. This queer classic is really a historical snapshot of 20th century homosexuality in England. Hollinghurst masterly uses an amusing cast of characters to explore issues of class, wealth, race, identity and sexuality and its bit of a mystery and quite a lot of fun discovering how connected their lives are. ... I was first introduced to this book in 1999. At the time, I was living a life of promiscuity quite like the protagonist, Will. One wintry night I found myself at a party w Sensationally sexy. This queer classic is really a historical snapshot of 20th century homosexuality in England. Hollinghurst masterly uses an amusing cast of characters to explore issues of class, wealth, race, identity and sexuality and its bit of a mystery and quite a lot of fun discovering how connected their lives are. ... I was first introduced to this book in 1999. At the time, I was living a life of promiscuity quite like the protagonist, Will. One wintry night I found myself at a party with the promise of meeting up with a boy I was “seeing.” However, I found myself chatting much of the evening with the alluring hostess of the party who I recall telling me that I was quite feline in nature. I must admit, I was absolutely sly and very clever in those days so her association was correct. After I made my scores and was saying my goodbyes, the hostess handed me her dog eared copy of The Swimming Pool Library and told me it was a book she was certain I might quite like and she wanted me to have it. A parting gift. Rereading this book twenty+ years later, with a much more introspective mind, I can clearly see how she was right.

  15. 5 out of 5

    C.

    I feel like I have nothing to say about this book. Nonetheless I'm going to write a review, because this is what I do. You have been warned. It took an incredibly long time to get started, during which time I struggled with every page, trying desperately to identify with anyone at all and not get too annoyed with the prose style, which was effortlessly elegant and rich, but also plummy and even a little camp in a rather awfully upper-class too-British way. My reaction to the world of over-monied, I feel like I have nothing to say about this book. Nonetheless I'm going to write a review, because this is what I do. You have been warned. It took an incredibly long time to get started, during which time I struggled with every page, trying desperately to identify with anyone at all and not get too annoyed with the prose style, which was effortlessly elegant and rich, but also plummy and even a little camp in a rather awfully upper-class too-British way. My reaction to the world of over-monied, over-sexed, hypocritical shiftlessness of the main character varied from a sort of morbid fascination to complete revulsion, bringing out in me a puritanical streak I didn't even know I had. Probably this is most of the reason it annoyed me. Towards the end I had the impression that Hollinghurst was showing off a dénoument that he was ever so proud of - "What an achievement for a first-time author!" "Didn't see that one coming, didja?" Well, no, I didn't see it coming, actually - I suppose maybe it was clever; a web of connections and intrigue and immorality had been constructed through the whole book, so subtly that I didn't notice it happening, only to be drawn tight at the very last minute. However, this left me feeling not impressed by the author's skill, but confused. Probably this is a fault with me rather than Hollinghurst, but still - bordering on total indifference.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Gerasimos Reads

    Certainly one of the best representations of gay people I have ever read in literature and the first time I saw sex depicted so realistically and in full detail. It has aged extremely well considering the fact it was published almost 30 years ago and it has rightfully earned its title as a queer classic. I knocked off a star because there were moments where I found some of the characters too one dimensional and cartoonish (certainly a Dickensian inspiration there). The main character as well as Certainly one of the best representations of gay people I have ever read in literature and the first time I saw sex depicted so realistically and in full detail. It has aged extremely well considering the fact it was published almost 30 years ago and it has rightfully earned its title as a queer classic. I knocked off a star because there were moments where I found some of the characters too one dimensional and cartoonish (certainly a Dickensian inspiration there). The main character as well as Lord Natwich are literary characters living in a book and there are very few attempts to make them appear life-like. This is not necessarily a bad thing (Dickens does it all the time) but I wish sometimes some situations would have been handled differently.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mel Bossa

    I read up until he tries picking up the sixteen year old hustler and because the young man asks him for money, Will dreams of pissing on him or violently taking him by force etc etc. Look, I'm no prude. I've read graphic books and loved them. But this one bores me to death. There's no dept. No plot. No real characters to hang on to. Last thing: Will's narration and Charles's letters are written in the same voice. The book would have been more fun if in the end we find out that Will is actually i I read up until he tries picking up the sixteen year old hustler and because the young man asks him for money, Will dreams of pissing on him or violently taking him by force etc etc. Look, I'm no prude. I've read graphic books and loved them. But this one bores me to death. There's no dept. No plot. No real characters to hang on to. Last thing: Will's narration and Charles's letters are written in the same voice. The book would have been more fun if in the end we find out that Will is actually in a padded room in a mental institution and that all the while he's been reading his own past as a racist colonialist rich prick.

  18. 5 out of 5

    David

    Great writing but it felt a bit half-baked at times. Was he trying to touch every base in post-Wilde gay fiction? Does this explain why the story was a little odd at times? The last chapters brought us to a rather strange place: a "secret" interesting enough to shock a very selfish and generally disinterested young man but not damaging enough for anyone to work very hard to keep and, crucially, not so interesting that any of the young man's friends or family had sought to tell him. That's a funny Great writing but it felt a bit half-baked at times. Was he trying to touch every base in post-Wilde gay fiction? Does this explain why the story was a little odd at times? The last chapters brought us to a rather strange place: a "secret" interesting enough to shock a very selfish and generally disinterested young man but not damaging enough for anyone to work very hard to keep and, crucially, not so interesting that any of the young man's friends or family had sought to tell him. That's a funny sort of secret, isn't it? I'd love to know if the film at the end really exists. Has anyone seen it? "as he raised his hand to his temples and pushed back his wet hair, his biceps doubled smoothly, sleek as coupling animals." In the showers: "In a few seconds the hard-on might pass from one end of the room to the other, with the foolish perfection of a Busby Berkeley routine." "I also felt a certain pride in what I had done, in a British manner wanting it to be communicated, but in silence." "'The young man who modelled Sebastian was almost in tears when I showed it to him, it's so lovely.' 'How did you do the arrows?' I interrupted, remembering Mishima's arduous posing in a self-portrait as Sebastian. 'Oh, no arrows, dear; it's before the martyrdom. He's quite unpierced. But he looks ready for it, somehow, they way I've done it.' 'How can you tell its Sebastian, then,' said Nantwich emphatically, 'since the only thing that identified Se-bloody-bastian is that he's got all those ruddy arrows sticking up his arse?' This seemed a fair criticism, but Staines ignored it." "I did so regret it was the Central Line I used most." "In his tight white jeans and red-and-white checked shirt he reminded one vaguely of an Italian restaurant." "...and a sprinkling of those dotty types with monocles and panama hats who seem to exist for ever is some fantastic Bloomsbury of their own." "'What's he having?' I said, as I watched the wild pink liquid rattle from the shaker into the inverted cone of the glass. He raised an eyebrow and murmured disgustingly, 'Cunnilingus Surprise.' 'Mmm. Not quite my thing perhaps.'"

  19. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    I totally loved this book and I wish I could write prose as Hollinghurst. His turn of phrase and excellent use of language is stellar. The story is interestingly told through the eyes of a thirtyish gay man in the prime of his life simply lounging, working out, and having sexual encounters of the various kind. The plot dupes you into regarding the plot as non-existent and that the book will tell the typical tale of a lounger, but the author starts dropping hints to an underlying secret. I love Wil I totally loved this book and I wish I could write prose as Hollinghurst. His turn of phrase and excellent use of language is stellar. The story is interestingly told through the eyes of a thirtyish gay man in the prime of his life simply lounging, working out, and having sexual encounters of the various kind. The plot dupes you into regarding the plot as non-existent and that the book will tell the typical tale of a lounger, but the author starts dropping hints to an underlying secret. I love William's gutsy sexual encounters - even more thrilling than the sex for William seems to be the unknown and the possibility of the situation deteriorating. I have never been up for "cruising" or even chatting up strangers & find the descriptions fascinating. The art of catching signals and wayward glances seems to have been eradicated as the gay rights movement has brought gay sexuality front and center. I assume, also, that the internet has made such casual encounters enter the digital arena vs. the public bathrooms of old. Certain Idaho congressfolks like to stand by traditions, however, and long for an age of old.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chris Chapman

    Beautifully written. Reams and reams of pretty graphic sex but it works because it's not floridly described and because it's crucial to the theme - the tension between the hedonistic life - cruising, endless meaningless shags, generally not working (our hero Will has come into lots of money), and commitment to work, ideals, friends. Interesting idea that decriminalising gay activity while obviously very important, took away some of the frisson and excitement from the game of seduction (this comin Beautifully written. Reams and reams of pretty graphic sex but it works because it's not floridly described and because it's crucial to the theme - the tension between the hedonistic life - cruising, endless meaningless shags, generally not working (our hero Will has come into lots of money), and commitment to work, ideals, friends. Interesting idea that decriminalising gay activity while obviously very important, took away some of the frisson and excitement from the game of seduction (this coming from a character who spends time in prison for soliciting). Quite brave and ambitious, how it takes in all these things, but also art, class snobbery, racism, while moving back and forth between colonial era Sudan and pre-AIDS London. Lots of reviews here about how unpleasant Will is, spoiling the enjoyment .... I have very little time for this attitude, and probably not much to add to the debate, but just one thought - maybe empathising with the protagonist is a plus, but also, isn't it a test of empathy to ask you to empathise with a character who has so many faults?

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ilya

    This book really absorbed me. How do I write this? Hollinghurst has a way of getting into the subtleties of perception - how the physical environment and the things people say, and the unconscious social messaging that is all around us combine..."He had that look of insincere good behaviour that people have when they are working on their own public relations. As I came in the coppery clack of the shop-bell had all heads turning." Also, it is full of sex, very graphic sex. A great read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kirstine

    This has been highly praised as being one of the best British books about gay life. Not knowing a hell of a lot about gay life or the gay community (in Britain or anywhere else) or British fiction, I feel this is something I can't really comment on. But as someone outside of this community and - I feel it's safe to say - that type of life (I don't have that much sex or that much money (and I'm not as sociable)), it was a great look into what goes on in a world I don't frequent; how things work an This has been highly praised as being one of the best British books about gay life. Not knowing a hell of a lot about gay life or the gay community (in Britain or anywhere else) or British fiction, I feel this is something I can't really comment on. But as someone outside of this community and - I feel it's safe to say - that type of life (I don't have that much sex or that much money (and I'm not as sociable)), it was a great look into what goes on in a world I don't frequent; how things work and the different dynamics. There was a great contrast between the main character, Will, and his best friend, James. Both showed some of the freedoms and limitations of being gay and being open about it. In many respects gay life is pretty much the same as the lives of everyone else (oh gosh, who knew?). They have the same worries, the same desires, the same dreams. But there's also an extra layer of worry and apprehension, a layer that the different characters use different means to break through. And this is the thing I perhaps had the most questions about, because - I say this with the fear of sounding ridiculous - how do you know, as a gay person, if someone else is also gay? It makes sense how it happens in places that are mostly occupied by gay people. But I mean, Will keeps picking up guys in random places, and how did he know they wanted what he wanted and that he wouldn't get rejected or even ridiculed? It took a while for this to get addressed in the book, and it was driving me crazy, but in the end you sort of understand it, not because it is clearly stated, but because you get to watch Will handle it. I liked that, in the end it gave a much better understanding. So why only 3 stars? First of all, there isn't actually a swimming pool library in this book (the title being the reason I picked it up in the first place). Had there been, this probably would have automatically been 4 stars. Secondly, I couldn't quite relate to Will. We're very different in character and personality, and that also lessens my enjoyment of a book. He rarely did things I downright disagreed with, but I didn't feel strongly connected to him either. I guess there were things I didn't understand and didn't share with him. The one thing that put me off the most though, is how Will was just 'suddenly' in love with Phil. Seriously? I don't get it. I never, not once, got the impression that he was in love with him, or that Phil loved him back. Not once. And that's just... not good, because it makes part of the book unbelievable and unrealistic. The same goes for Will's relationship with Arthur. That is a messed up kind of love, sorry to say. And I have no doubt Alan Hollinghurst tried to make this story something real, something that depicted real life and it was just slightly ruined by how I simply didn't believe Will had ever loved anyone other than James. Maybe he hasn't, maybe that was the point, but it still fell very flat to me. There were a few scenes similar to that of Call Me by Your Name, but while it was believable and heartwrenching and stunning in that book, it was devoid of any real attachment in this one. Both by me, as a reader, but also by the characters in the book. Other than that, it was a fairly enjoyable read, and it definitely expanded and broadened my view on some things, but I doubt I'll pick it up again, even if I might benefit from it, as I suspect there were a few things that went over my heard (perhaps because I simply lack the knowledge to properly comprehend them). That's for another time.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. What a steaming pile of turd. I thought the Line Of Beauty was rubbish, but at least there was darkness hiding amongst the explicit sex. The Swimming Pool Library has nothing of the sort. Described by some as an elegy to the pre AIDS homosexual world, this was a tale without a single likeable character, with no human bases I could touch down with whatsoever. Perhaps it's because there isn't a single woman in this book. Perhaps it's because the main character is one of those awful dying breeds of What a steaming pile of turd. I thought the Line Of Beauty was rubbish, but at least there was darkness hiding amongst the explicit sex. The Swimming Pool Library has nothing of the sort. Described by some as an elegy to the pre AIDS homosexual world, this was a tale without a single likeable character, with no human bases I could touch down with whatsoever. Perhaps it's because there isn't a single woman in this book. Perhaps it's because the main character is one of those awful dying breeds of monied posh sorts who can do nothing with their lives and still live them quite handsomely. Perhaps it's the attitude of "well, if they ban us here, let's just take our exciting news ideas to the sub continent and have our way with people who have no recourse to do anything about it." There is a plot of sorts, where a rich posh old guy who spent a month in prison leads our wonderful protagonist down the garden track, pretending he wants him to write his memoirs when what he actually wants is for him to find out that his grandfather was the one who threw him in jail. Well goodness gracious, what a dilemma? Never mind, I'll just get back to preying on men below my social station in the shower at my club. That's the gentlemanly thing to do, unlike that nasty Argentinian type with the gimp mask. No class, those South Americans. The prose is awful, turgid, overcooked so many times that I needed the fire brigade on constant standby. The characters are one dimensional dullards. The glow of so much money, and so little done with it in a time of real social discontent is sickening. It's a very strong word, but I think I actually hated this book. Possibly the worst yet.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    this is said to be hollinghurst's first novel, completed at about the age of 33 it is clear he pays homage to (or how I say "name-dropping") his inspirations of Firbank and E.M.Forster throughout, his major interest while studying English in school in an elevator summary, TS-PL opens with the protagonist, Will Beckwith, coming to the aid of an elder gay man, who in turn is a lord with a complex link to his family... Lord Nantwich asks Will to write his personal memoir, and slowly more a more of th this is said to be hollinghurst's first novel, completed at about the age of 33 it is clear he pays homage to (or how I say "name-dropping") his inspirations of Firbank and E.M.Forster throughout, his major interest while studying English in school in an elevator summary, TS-PL opens with the protagonist, Will Beckwith, coming to the aid of an elder gay man, who in turn is a lord with a complex link to his family... Lord Nantwich asks Will to write his personal memoir, and slowly more a more of the characters are reveled by the readings of Lord N.'s diaries which read as a compliation of short stories within the larger story the most memorable part, aside from the plentiful and unbelievably capricious sexual excursions, is in fact the precise way hollinghurst even discredits the sexual theme his own novel parallels by citing a book our main character picks up near the end refering to this book that Will's "librarian" friend at the club where he swims "Nigel...had said it was a good one; but I resented its professional neatness and its priapic attempts to win me over. The trouble was that, as attempts, they were half-successful: something in me was pained and removed; but something else, subliterate, responded to the book's bald graffiti" to me, this sealed the deal on such an eloquent way an otherwise, seemingly trashy novel becomes a timeless work; and in itself, I believe, is something that will be linked to by future novelists I will come back to this again, as I'm sure I will pick up more of the subtle ironies I missed this first time around

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    In a hilarious, though slightly improbable, conversation between the narrator and his six-year-old nephew, the latter, who apparently has been told that Uncle Will is homosexual without really understanding it, is looking at a photo album and asking questions, concluding "I mean, almost everyone is homosexual, aren't they? Boys, I mean." The reply "I sometimes think so" sums up the spirit of this book in which continuous cruising and brief but torrid affairs are literally the sum total of the na In a hilarious, though slightly improbable, conversation between the narrator and his six-year-old nephew, the latter, who apparently has been told that Uncle Will is homosexual without really understanding it, is looking at a photo album and asking questions, concluding "I mean, almost everyone is homosexual, aren't they? Boys, I mean." The reply "I sometimes think so" sums up the spirit of this book in which continuous cruising and brief but torrid affairs are literally the sum total of the narrator's existence (abetted by his independent wealth). The heterosexuals (grandfathers and other necessary progenitors) are quite peripheral. The writing, as I mentioned in my Rabbit Is Rich blurb, has a casual elegant brilliance that quite transcends the subject, though as portrait of gay life, it rivals Andrew Holleran's Dancer From The Dance for entertainment value (and no, Larry Kramer's Faggots is not nearly as good). On finishing, I should report it's not all hot guy on guy action - there are some challenging questions raised about race and class in England. Also there a several long stretches in which the narrator is reading the diary of one of the other characters - I admire how the two voices are impressively differentiated.

  26. 5 out of 5

    George K. Ilsley

    I read this one back in the day, and didn't remember anything about it. Just re-read it and Wow! Perhaps because "Will" is somewhat unlikeable, I believe that put me off when I first read this book. Now, with a bit more experience under my belt, I recognize the type. The layers of history here are fascinating, and it is very evocative how Hollingshurst evokes the repeating themes over the different story lines.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    This is the longest its taken me to read a book in years. Years. This had nothing to do with Hollinghurst's writing (which, it should be obvious by now, I love) and everything to do with the narrator. I finished The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which is rich, grandiose, sad, and humanistic, and launched straight into this, which is...very well-written and well-observed. It was really, really difficult to move from these kind, imperfect characters to William Beckwith. Pretty much any ot This is the longest its taken me to read a book in years. Years. This had nothing to do with Hollinghurst's writing (which, it should be obvious by now, I love) and everything to do with the narrator. I finished The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which is rich, grandiose, sad, and humanistic, and launched straight into this, which is...very well-written and well-observed. It was really, really difficult to move from these kind, imperfect characters to William Beckwith. Pretty much any other book would have made for a better lead-in. Also, I usually do quite a bit of reading on public transportation, but, okay, there's this unspoken agreement that everyone will be reading over your shoulder, and Beckwith (James, Nantwich, Hollinghurst, et. al.) luxuriated in nigh-on fetishistic descriptions of black male anatomy and debates on underage ambiguity, and none of that was going to fly. But enough about the things that prevented me from reading. Once I got into it three days ago, I was fully into it. Push aside the sex and what you have is a novel about numerous versions of England (multiples pasts and multiples presents) uneasily coexisting. There's the Bridesheadian and Empire-tastic diary flashbacks; there's the 1974 idle rich; there are skinheads and immigrant families and estates; there are trips to the opera, accidental pornography, arrests, adorable nephews, unequal friendships, and a lot of swimming. It is difficult to follow a narrator like this, but it's also very rewarding. The variations in Will's speech from friend to friend are minute and amazing. Those infinitesimal shifts are so true to life. This is a narrator who is not half the bastard he pretends to be. Hollinghurst gives us only a few glimpses of Will's unfiltered reactions, so brief that Will himself fails to notice. This is masterful, and my favorite thing about the novel. It is also why it took me so long to get going; pay too little attention and you risk missing them altogether. This book was written the year I was born, and right now I am gearing up to celebrate my 25th birthday on Monday. Some things change, some things stay the same. I will go on loving Alan Hollinghurst, but I will never read The Swimming-Pool Library on the bus. The Line of Beauty, The Stranger's Child, and this book all feature protagonists who should be working on a book, and aren't. These are not the most restful novels a writer could be reading, but they are among the best.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dominic

    A semi-interesting story in parts, but ultimately it boils down to the vanity and shallow life of a gay man, William Beckwith, living in 1980s Britain. It's a book about not much happening to an unlikeable sex-crazed man. It is very unclear whether the author is extoling the virtues of this man's life or criticising them; to be honest it reads like he is doing neither and just reporting the tedious antics of this promiscuous man over one summer. The attempts to contrast this with the diary of th A semi-interesting story in parts, but ultimately it boils down to the vanity and shallow life of a gay man, William Beckwith, living in 1980s Britain. It's a book about not much happening to an unlikeable sex-crazed man. It is very unclear whether the author is extoling the virtues of this man's life or criticising them; to be honest it reads like he is doing neither and just reporting the tedious antics of this promiscuous man over one summer. The attempts to contrast this with the diary of the elderly Lord Charles' antics in the 1920s and 30s fall flat, as he too is ultimately unlikeable. This is all on the background of a bizarre landscape where seemingly every man William meets is gay and impulsively interested in sex. Hollinghursts best novel, The Line of Beauty, features a similary empty protagonist but features such a strong plot and a more interesting character progression. The Swimming-Pool Library's plot on the other hand does not make up for the central characters deficiencies and I found myself glad whenever something bad happened to him, so vain and unlikeable he became. Sadly I have a strong suspicion that elements of this book may be semi-autobiographical, and so it makes me think less of Hollinghurst. Ultimately it's an average book, which follows the unsavoury and oversexed adventures of a very shallow gay man in 1980s london.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Davie Bennett

    Saw this mentioned numerous times on a famous-gay-people-pick-their-favorite-books blog post a few weeks ago. I appreciated parts of Hollinghurst's "The Line of Beauty," but just couldn't find much to connect with in the main character's life of British aristocratic privilege. So I thought I would give this older work a try. Turns out it is one of those books about people having sex in public restrooms. Are. You. Kidding. Me. ?. This is one of the best gay novels ever written? No, no, no. The pro Saw this mentioned numerous times on a famous-gay-people-pick-their-favorite-books blog post a few weeks ago. I appreciated parts of Hollinghurst's "The Line of Beauty," but just couldn't find much to connect with in the main character's life of British aristocratic privilege. So I thought I would give this older work a try. Turns out it is one of those books about people having sex in public restrooms. Are. You. Kidding. Me. ?. This is one of the best gay novels ever written? No, no, no. The protagonist, Will Beckwith, is again a spoiled, unemployed brat with a class title but seemingly no soul. He spends much of the book falling fast into immature relationships and cheating on those boys at the same time. And then - gasp! - he's shocked and appalled to learn that those boys are cheating on him too. Oh brother. There's a lot of Afro-fetishism in this book too. I don't know what to say about that except that it is so completely dated. So if you'd like to peek into what gay life in Britian may have been like in the uber-decadent, pre-AIDS late 70s and early 80s, rehashing every negative stereotype and worst possible behavior scenario in the process, this is the book for you.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Colin

    I love Hollinghurst, but I guess I was expecting this book to be a little racier. I know it was racy, but while going on a walking tour through Russell Square past the hotel where the narrator's lover works, I had a professor describe it as "pornographic." I've read better / worse. But Hollinghurst's style is wonderful, and his story of pre-AIDS London and the history of repression and entrapment in England is fantastic. I'm a little annoyed by all of the class issues between the narrator, his l I love Hollinghurst, but I guess I was expecting this book to be a little racier. I know it was racy, but while going on a walking tour through Russell Square past the hotel where the narrator's lover works, I had a professor describe it as "pornographic." I've read better / worse. But Hollinghurst's style is wonderful, and his story of pre-AIDS London and the history of repression and entrapment in England is fantastic. I'm a little annoyed by all of the class issues between the narrator, his lovers, and the lord, but I guess that is difficult to avoid in British literature. It really got me fired up about Ronald Firbank, but since I ordered a book of his stories, I haven't been in the mood, instead turning to Hemingway, who is probably the antithesis of Firbank in style and content. This is also the last of Hollinghurst's books that I had to read, and I cannot wait for the next one to come out. Except for The Spell, they have all been exceptional, and each was different in its obsessions and concerns. Really a fantastic writer.

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