If I was forced to rank Alan Hollinghurst books (and it seems like I am forcing myself to do that right now), it would have to go:
The Swimming-Pool Library > The Line of Beauty > The Folding Star > The Stranger’s Child > The Spell > The Sparsholt Affair
Hollinghurst’s first book, “The Swimming-Pool Library,” was such a revelation to me, both in my coming out process and in its unabashed frankness discussing gay sex. Will, the protagonist of the novel, leapt off the page and seduced me in ways that made my subway commute at times physically uncomfortable.
“The Sparsholt Affair,” Hollinghurst’s latest novel doesn’t quite come together for me — though still better than most books I’ve read in the last year. Key moments happen off the page and plot lines unfold in surprisingly undramatic fashion. Johnny, the nominal main character in the 7-decades-long narrative, has a distinctly impenetrable and stoic disposition. The fulcrum of the story rests on a sex scandal in which Johnny’s father was a central figure. Alexandra Schwartz wrote at length about the book (in the context of several of Hollinghurst’s previous novels) and said it best: “It could be interesting, if Hollinghurst would only press the advantage of the remarkable story that he has set in motion… It is almost as if Hollinghurst, sympathetic to Johnny’s introverted awkwardness and wanting him to flourish on his own terms, believes the question to be impolite.”
Still, the writing is beautiful. I don’t know of another author who matches Hollinghurst’s ease and charm on the page. If you don’t believe me, peruse the excerpts tweeted out from @Lollinghurst. In this scene — really just a random moment, elegantly captured — Johnny and his friend Ivan stop for a meal while on a weekend getaway.