Book 826 Alan Hollinghurst – The Swimming-Pool Library

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.

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Book 988 Alan Hollinghurst – The Line of Beauty

As I was reading Alan Holinghurst’s ‘The Line of Beauty’ I couldn’t help feeling that, bar the gay sex scenes, this would be the perfect novel to study for ones A levels. It’s got everything. Well defined characters, an topical plot, bits of humor and it is impeccably written. Incidentally I have Hollinghurst’s three main novels ; The Swimming Pool Library, The Folding Start and this one but I have never been able to finish them. Thankfully I got through this one and I loved every second of it.

I am a huge sucker for the well crafted novel. It’s a reason why I love writers such as Iris Murdoch, Anthony Burgess and Tim Winton. Everything has a part to play and as the plot becomes more complex you find yourself more engaged in the book.

Nick Guest, who comes from a humble family, is a permanent resident at up and coming Tory politician Gerald Fedden and his slightly dysfunctional family. Although Nick is clearly out of place with their lifestyle, he is friends with Gerald’s son Toby and the family accept him as an extra son. Because of this Nick feels privileged to know such a class of family so intimately and feels that he is part of a special world.

Nick is also gay and throughout the novel he embarks on relationships with two very different men. One is the middle class Leo, which is short-lived and with Wani Ouradi, a product of a  nouveau riche family (ironically his father, Bertrand became rich through owning a supermarket chain – a dig at Thatcher or maybe Harrods?) , and has a predilection for cocaine and kinky sex, drags Nick into this seedy underworld.

Eventually the party has to end and Nick discovers that the majority of his gay friends are suffering from AIDS, the Tory government is crippling Britain, Gerald has created a scandal and his daughter, Catherine’s depression gets worse.

Eventually due to the press discovering Nick’s love affair with the supposedly straight Wani, Gerald banishes Nick from his house. A leaving of the garden of Eden.

Hollinhurst’s portrayal of social classes is very reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh’s, that is mocking, slightly cruel and full of dirty secrets. Although not laugh out loud funny, Hollinghurst does bring a smile to one’s lips, especially at the Fedden’s silver wedding anniversary party, where Margaret Thatcher makes an appearance.

Satirical jibes aside, ‘The Line of Beauty’ (which has many connotations in the novel) is the type of novel that resonates with it’s beauty and structure. Not one word or action is out of place and although the novel takes place in the eighties there aren’t any annoying anachronisms, which hinder one from reading the book.

I am a bit hesitant to say generalize but I think there is such a thing called the Classic British Novel, where social classes are dissected and mocked at, while the writing is top notch and the plot unfolds and the reader discovers more secrets. If there is such a genre then Hollinghurst has created a modern benchmark.