After reading the stunning ‘Line of Beauty’ a couple of years ago (book 988) I was rather eager to read Hollinghurst’s first novel, ‘The Swimming-Pool Library’ but I have to admit it’s a very flawed novel despite some excellent bits.
William Beckworth is an upper class gay man who lives a very hedonistic lifestyle , when not having affairs with other men he parties’, eats at expensive restaurants and so on. The novel itself starts when Beckworth rescues an old man from a heart attack, which he later finds out is Lord Nantwitch, also gay.
Nantwich is so grateful that he wants William to write a biography about him and gives him his diaries. Upon reading them Beckworth discovers that pre second world war gay life is not entirely different from gay life in 1980’s London (where the book takes place) maybe it’s a little bit more underground but basically the same elements are there.
William then discovers that a member of his family got involved in one incident of Nantwitch’s life and even Beckworth’s own view of things start to go a bit downhill.
On the whole I enjoyed the novel, it is funny in places and I liked the plot, especially the twists but I found the writing style way too stilted and dry and this was a book I read after the Satanic Verses so Hollinghurst’s prose came as a bit of a shock – I sort of wanted words to leap off the page, which never happened once. Plus I did detect a lot of unnecessary ‘shock value’ scenes which really did not need to be in the novel but I assume since this was a first novel Hollinghurst wanted to make his mark.
Honestly I say stick with ‘The Line of Beauty’ and approach this one with a bit of caution.