Thu, Oct 05, 2017 - Page 14 News List

Book review: Hollinghurst’s continuities

Alan Hollinghurst’s sixth work of fiction is an Epicurean novel about time, loss and change and the focus on aging

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing reporter

What else? It’s inadvisable to give away too much of the plot of any novel under review, but I can safely say there’s a lot of eating in the book, and even more drinking. There are more gay characters in it than in its predecessor, The Stranger’s Child, but the sex scenes never proceed beyond their initial phases. How different this is from his earlier novels which seemed to combine the explicitness of pornography with the urbane prose style of Henry James.

The Stranger’s Child is here echoed in other ways. Strangely, both novels focus on five selected years within a wide historical sweep. But for some reason, hard to track down, I found The Sparshalt Affair much more engrossing.

As Hollinghurst has now completed six novels, it’s an entertaining game to compare them to Jane Austen’s six. The parallels are surprisingly close, with only one serious exception. I won’t go into all the details, but if The Swimming Pool Library is Hollinghurst’s Pride and Prejudice, this new novel is his Persuasion — cooler, more thoughtful and soberly optimistic at the close. And there is a small coterie of Austen fans who consider that novel to be her best.

It’s become something of a cliche, certainly in the UK, to say that Hollinghurst is the country’s finest fictional stylist, and to give all his novels unqualified approval. I, too, await his books with unequaled anticipation, and I’ve already read The Sparsholt Affair twice. The reported facts of his working daily from 8am to 6pm, but only producing 300 to 400 words a day, and taking seven years to come up with a novel such as this new one are, however, are hard to understand. Henry James, by contrast, published three long novels, dictating them to a typist, between 1902 and 1904. But just as we all wish Jane Austen had gone on to write more books after Persuasion, so too we look forward to many more novels, however slowly produced, from someone who seems destined to become a classic English author.

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