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.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I’m glad I read Alan Hollinghurst’s later novel, The Line of Beauty, before reading his first. If it hadn’t been for that previous assurance that Hollinghurst writes poignant, literary work, I would have been baffled by The Swimming-Pool Library’s overall lack of purpose. A huge portion of the book is dedicated to Will cruising for men and describing his escapades. The “point” of the book doesn’t become obvious until the last forty pages or so. These last pages save it; giving it a thoughtfulness and an unexpected hypocrisy that The Line of Beauty also explores.
The obviously literary thread of the novel is the subplot with Charles, an older man who requests that Will write his biography. Will reads Charles’ old diary entries, creating two first-person narratives that describe gay life in separate periods. The book becomes more interesting (or less, arguably) when viewed from a 2015 perspective as well: Will sees himself as...
I was going to begin by saying that I almost wish this were not a "gay novel," but what I really wish is that so many people would stop referring to it as such. How many reviewers, for example, would start out by referring to, say, Sense and Sensibility as a "heterosexual novel"? Of course Hollinghurst's novel couldn't be what it is without homosexuality, but then you could say the same about the heterosexuality of many "straight" novels. The important point is that it's a very very good novel. Nor is it enough to say that it is well-written. It is also beautifully composed, something that goes much deeper and is much more complex than mere "good" writing. For several chapters, the book may seem episodic and rather pointless, but then, almost subconsciously, the reader starts to sense the heave of a theme, the faint strain of a story, like the weaving of beautiful music. And then you're caught and swept along . . . . I won't belabor plot details and character analyses. There...
Well, it's a disappointment. The ending was a bit of a surprise, but it did not save the novel, I fear. The central character has an insatiable appetite for gay sex (I am not criticizing gay sex.), but he is about as discriminating as a Coney Island hot dog. It got boring--one encounter after another with a "mysterious" side plot developing. To the author's credit, I give it three stars because the dialogue of one of the British characters is hysterically funny. The author gets that perfect, and the language is funny. It's been a long time since this reader has guffawed; that was fun ,but the overall impression is that of a novel filled with sexual encounters, which Hemingway could do better by describing it less, a bit like the iceberg with 70% under water.
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