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The Swimming-Pool Library (1989)

The Swimming-Pool Library (1989)

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3.8 of 5 Votes: 4
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0679722564 (ISBN13: 9780679722564)

About book The Swimming-Pool Library (1989)

i'll start off with a blanket statement: many novels of the Gay Fiction subgenre will fall within two categories. 1. Coming of Age Tales in which the protagonist struggles to come out, often against his unsympathetic surroundings. often tender; occasionally mawkish.2. a category that i like to call Gay World Novels in which, oh, everyone is pretty much gay. fine. dream on, gays, dream on. if you can't live it...dream it!to me, the self-relegation of most gay novels between these two categories can be annoying, but i suppose understandable. gays have to come out of the closet and so this intense experience is perfectly paired with the classic coming-of-age tale's structure. and gays are also often rejected by straight society, so why not rejoice in the telling of tales that in turn reject that straight world, that rolls its eyes at it, that have narratives that seem to posit that straights are the actual minority? Swimming-Pool falls squarely within that second category.the novel is about a repulsive and useless parasite, a shallow and superficial upper-class twit obsessed solely with sex, entirely without any qualities whatsoever except, i suppose, his aristocratic lineage and his apparently smashing good looks and large endowment. unfortunately, the protagonist somehow thinks that he's not a complete waste of space. even more unfortunately, the author seems to think that he's not so bad, that his thoughts and interests and obsessions and general behavior are not completely infantile and boring. well, i beg to differ, hollinghurst!this is a book of so many wasted opportunities that it becomes truly disgusting. the writer knows how to write: his style is elegant and subtle and full of long, brave sentences and carefully drawn mysteries and surprisingly ambiguous characterization. and he throws it all away by writing about a world THAT CARES ABOUT NOTHING EXCEPT FOR SEX. give me a fucking break, hollinghurst! is this how you see gay people? do they think of nothing but checking people out, eyeing the package of every single dude that crosses their path, rating each body, ignoring all women, living for moments that are only about the interwining of bodies, the randomly chosen hook-up, the spilling of various fluids? do they not have other thoughts, have they no other interests, no other inner or outer life? do their interior monologues consist of nothing but the drooling study of the beauty of the male form? are they incapable of even the slightest depth? do all gays live to celebrate the flesh, and for nothing else whatsoever? when our narrator greets his long-lost lover by ripping his pants down and burying his face in his ass, is this supposed to be palpably romantic rather than absurd and farcical?the novel wastes a golden opportunity in the story of the elderly and very gay Lord Nantwich, whose diaries the protagonist is working his way through as he considers writing a bio of the lord's life. learning about this elderly gent's story could have been fascinating - a tale of england's colonial past, adventures in africa, a recounting of london during some very interesting times, all seen through the lense of an upper class gay outsider. but 'tis not to be. like the narrator of the present, Lord Nantwich is magically surrounded by gay acquaintances and probably-gay-or-maybe-bisexual african natives. almost every single person that either character meets, past or present, is gay or probably-gay-or-bisexual. and even worse, and much like the narrator of the present, Lord Nantwich is also disinterested in recounting anything whatsoever that isn't about getting off and ogling all the gay chaps around him. such a potentially vivid life and all he is primarily interested in is getting some action? both characters are resoundingly pathetic - and yet hollinghurst appears to think there is something brave about Lord Nantwich and something charming about our feckless, pointless narrator. at one point, the protagonist idly thumbs through his best friend's diary. naturally, his best friend is also obsessed with sex. i guess that's how gays are, right? they simply have no other interests.there was one thing that consistently amused me, in a good way: the effete and fatuous queen of a lead character is also a rough, tough top. i like that! it is always interesting when expectations and stereotypes are subverted. sadly, those instances are the only examples of any kind of subversiveness.a part of the novel that struck me as particularly foul was the sexualization of kids. yes, kids can be sexual, i know this of course. but almost an entire chapter devoted to salivating over a junior boxing championship? a short sequence where the narrator describes a family man lovingly patting his child while also lovingly caressing his own hard-on - described as some kind of deep connection...seriously, hollinghurst? the title is laughable. the narrator's constant presence at the local english equivalent of the ymca swimming pool is metaphorically (?) tied to his dreamy past hooking up with guys in the school swimming pool, both of which are thematically (?) linked up with Lord Nantwich's rather more hedonistic private pool. that is some serious over-reaching there, hollinghurst.the novel has a deeply creepy obsession with race. specifically, blacks. Lord Nantwich is obsessed by them, both africans and african-american soldiers he meets. this is presented with some slight critical distance, but you know what? "slight critical distance" is not enough when the attitude being presented is so barkingly colonial and condescending that it becomes downright repulsive. our charmless hero also starts out with a black boyfriend and much is made of that character's stereotypical, lower-class 'blackness' and, naturally, his dangerous life in the projects. that's how blacks are, right? they are either innocent, wide-eyed africans or sexy, violent thugs. and of course the best friend also has his own love of black men - well, their dicks, that is. reading all about an insufferable, body-worshipping twit of a protagonist and an elderly upper-class jackass who lives to objectify eventually made me want to commit some bodily harm on both of them. when the narrator eventually gets his ass kicked, i couldn't help but think well finally he is getting a dose of some sort of reality that has nothing to do with worship of the male body or getting gosh, i just hated this novel.a little self-disclosure here. i'm a bi guy. i was out to a select group in high school. i was out to the world in college. i helped start the second iteration of Act-Up San Diego. when i was younger and better looking, i whored myself out a bit (now there's a fun fact). i used to volunteer for gay men dying of hiv. now i work for an agency whose clientele is well over half gay. i've gone to jail protesting for the right of gay marriage and the rights of gay teachers to teach children. i think my queer credibility is pretty much impeccable. and i say all this, not just to provide personal context, but mainly because i do not want this review to give the impression that there is any kind of lurking, bottled-up self-hate or any negative attitude towards gay sexuality involved in my rejection of this appalling novel. although i am not a big part of the gay community, i celebrate it and of course am a proud member. but there is nothing to celebrate about this novel. it was a revolting, depressing, infuriating experience for me. apparently The Swimming-Pool Library is considered to be some kind of modern gay classic. that does a profound disservice to the genuinely complex and challenging works and the truly sensitive and moving narratives that exist in this often wonderful subgenre.

This has been highly praised as being one of the best British books about gay life.Not knowing a hell of a lot about gay life or the gay community (in Britain or anywhere else) or British fiction, I feel this is something I can't really comment on. But as someone outside of this community and - I feel it's safe to say - that type of life (I don't have that much sex or that much money (and I'm not as sociable)), it was a great look into what goes on in a world I don't frequent; how things work and the different dynamics. There was a great contrast between the main character, Will, and his best friend, James. Both showed some of the freedoms and limitations of being gay and being open about it. In many respects gay life is pretty much the same as the lives of everyone else (oh gosh, who knew?). They have the same worries, the same desires, the same dreams. But there's also an extra layer of worry and apprehension, a layer that the different characters use different means to break through. And this is the thing I perhaps had the most questions about, because - I say this with the fear of sounding ridiculous - how do you know, as a gay person, if someone else is also gay? It makes sense how it happens in places that are mostly occupied by gay people. But I mean, Will keeps picking up guys in random places, and how did he know they wanted what he wanted and that he wouldn't get rejected or even ridiculed? It took a while for this to get addressed in the book, and it was driving me crazy, but in the end you sort of understand it, not because it is clearly stated, but because you get to watch Will handle it. I liked that, in the end it gave a much better understanding.So why only 3 stars? First of all, there isn't actually a swimming pool library in this book (the title being the reason I picked it up in the first place). Had there been, this probably would have automatically been 4 stars. Secondly, I couldn't quite relate to Will. We're very different in character and personality, and that also lessens my enjoyment of a book. He rarely did things I downright disagreed with, but I didn't feel strongly connected to him either. I guess there were things I didn't understand and didn't share with him. The one thing that put me off the most though, is how Will was just 'suddenly' in love with Phil. Seriously? I don't get it. I never, not once, got the impression that he was in love with him, or that Phil loved him back. Not once. And that's just... not good, because it makes part of the book unbelievable and unrealistic. The same goes for Will's relationship with Arthur. That is a messed up kind of love, sorry to say. And I have no doubt Alan Hollinghurst tried to make this story something real, something that depicted real life and it was just slightly ruined by how I simply didn't believe Will had ever loved anyone other than James. Maybe he hasn't, maybe that was the point, but it still fell very flat to me. There were a few scenes similar to that of Call Me by Your Name, but while it was believable and heartwrenching and stunning in that book, it was devoid of any real attachment in this one. Both by me, as a reader, but also by the characters in the book. Other than that, it was a fairly enjoyable read, and it definitely expanded and broadened my view on some things, but I doubt I'll pick it up again, even if I might benefit from it, as I suspect there were a few things that went over my heard (perhaps because I simply lack the knowledge to properly comprehend them). That's for another time.

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This is the longest its taken me to read a book in years. Years. This had nothing to do with Hollinghurst's writing (which, it should be obvious by now, I love) and everything to do with the narrator. I finished The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which is rich, grandiose, sad, and humanistic, and launched straight into this, which is...very well-written and well-observed. It was really, really difficult to move from these kind, imperfect characters to William Beckwith. Pretty much any other book would have made for a better lead-in.Also, I usually do quite a bit of reading on public transportation, but, okay, there's this unspoken agreement that everyone will be reading over your shoulder, and Beckwith (James, Nantwich, Hollinghurst, et. al.) luxuriated in nigh-on fetishistic descriptions of black male anatomy and debates on underage ambiguity, and none of that was going to fly.But enough about the things that prevented me from reading. Once I got into it three days ago, I was fully into it. Push aside the sex and what you have is a novel about numerous versions of England (multiples pasts and multiples presents) uneasily coexisting. There's the Bridesheadian and Empire-tastic diary flashbacks; there's the 1974 idle rich; there are skinheads and immigrant families and estates; there are trips to the opera, accidental pornography, arrests, adorable nephews, unequal friendships, and a lot of swimming.It is difficult to follow a narrator like this, but it's also very rewarding. The variations in Will's speech from friend to friend are minute and amazing. Those infinitesimal shifts are so true to life. This is a narrator who is not half the bastard he pretends to be. Hollinghurst gives us only a few glimpses of Will's unfiltered reactions, so brief that Will himself fails to notice. This is masterful, and my favorite thing about the novel. It is also why it took me so long to get going; pay too little attention and you risk missing them altogether. This book was written the year I was born, and right now I am gearing up to celebrate my 25th birthday on Monday. Some things change, some things stay the same. I will go on loving Alan Hollinghurst, but I will never read The Swimming-Pool Library on the bus.The Line of Beauty, The Stranger's Child, and this book all feature protagonists who should be working on a book, and aren't. These are not the most restful novels a writer could be reading, but they are among the best.

I feel like I have nothing to say about this book. Nonetheless I'm going to write a review, because this is what I do. You have been warned.It took an incredibly long time to get started, during which time I struggled with every page, trying desperately to identify with anyone at all and not get too annoyed with the prose style, which was effortlessly elegant and rich, but also plummy and even a little camp in a rather awfully upper-class too-British way. My reaction to the world of over-monied, over-sexed, hypocritical shiftlessness of the main character varied from a sort of morbid fascination to complete revulsion, bringing out in me a puritanical streak I didn't even know I had. Probably this is most of the reason it annoyed me.Towards the end I had the impression that Hollinghurst was showing off a dénoument that he was ever so proud of - "What an achievement for a first-time author!" "Didn't see that one coming, didja?" Well, no, I didn't see it coming, actually - I suppose maybe it was clever; a web of connections and intrigue and immorality had been constructed through the whole book, so subtly that I didn't notice it happening, only to be drawn tight at the very last minute. However, this left me feeling not impressed by the author's skill, but confused. Probably this is a fault with me rather than Hollinghurst, but still - bordering on total indifference.

UPDATE: 2014 re-readStill not sold on this. Perhaps had I read it before reading his other work, specifically The Line of Beauty, which I increasingly believe to be one of the premiere masterpieces in the queer canon, TSPL might feel less flimsy and unpolished to me. I understand the interest in writing a highly erotic novel about the pre-AIDS period, but it's been done before and better, and in fact, Hollinghurst himself does it better in the early part of The Line of Beauty! I think I liked it just slightly better this go round, largely because I've been sort of thirsty (wink!) for some gay fiction lately, and you can see germinating the things that eventually make Hollinghurst great, but it just feels like immature and redundant to me. Ah well. **2012 readingThree stars feels very insulting w/r/t Hollinghurst, but I suppose the gist of what I have to say is this: The Swimming Pool Library is v obviously a debut novel; meandering & bloated & trying to figure out why it might maybe sort of kind of be important. The novel follows two central threads - Will, a young gay man in late-century (is it clear what decade precisely? Any rate, it's pre-AIDS) England, whose nearly exclusive purpose is to shag as many dudes at the local gym as possible; and Nantwich, an ancient gay who spent time in Africa & for some reason is all famous and shit.Hollinghurst's big problem lies right there: both of these figures not only believe themselves to be important, but Hollinghurst also obviously wants his readership to believe this; to find them important and glamorous, even though this glamour is vaguely and self-referentially camp/silly/mockable. It's as if he realized by the time he finished the book that neither is actually all that interesting, & so undercut critiques of that by including some humor about their narcissism and self-interest. Unfortunately, he never fleshes either Will or Nantwich enough - well, excepting the actual manipulation of their naughty flesh, no-no bits, etc. - to warrant 330 pages of this. They're both basically pseudo-intelligent fucksticks, & yes, the dirty stuff is kind of hot, and line-by-line, Hollinghurst really is an incomparable writer in a stylistic sense, but it's patently clear to me that he simply hadn't quite figured out narrative pacing, formal play, or, well, storytelling! to carry this off.The diary entries are profoundly tedious until the very very end, and there comes a point when you realize that Will has watched just about every man in England covertly, or not so covertly, stroke his cock on the subway, in the gym, at hotel bars, in the pool, on the street, in the woods (???), and along apartment building stairwells - so even this begins to feel overcooked, flashy to cover up some other failure. James is once in a while a lovable character, but his self-debasement grows thin & you find yourself thinking, "Now we know why no one wants to fuck you, kid!" And that itself then becomes unbelievable, because his friendship with Will has no context, no emotional core - so ultimately, who will put faith in some deep affective bond between a studly, huge-dicked cad & a pathetic uggo who hates himself & pines for dozens of men who don't notice him. All that said, I'm being real shady to this novel, & this review sounds as if I wouldn't even award it a single star! This is untrue & unfair. It's an enjoyable read (except the diary bits - these I actually *skimmed* in the final 100 pages - something I NEVER do with pleasure reads!), and as I said, Hollinghurst's actual prose is nearly as astonishing here as it continues to be today. There are great bits, and the end reveal is actually quite wonderful. I think, had I read this earlier in my Hollinghurst experience, I might have given it the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, I just have to admit that "The Stranger's Child" seems to do everything that this novel tries to do, and does so perfectly, beautifully, critically. And there's a lot more going on in that novel beyond this, to boot. Oh, & lastly: do people talk about Hollinghurst's bizarre neo-exoticism? This goes on in "Line of Beauty" (and in "Line of Booty," my Nobel-winning fanfic porno v of that novel!), and is almost vom-worthy here. There are some seriously fucked up mandingo fetishes happening that, like, *almost* seem to be examined, but aren't, really. I can't tell if Hollinghurst is being a bit tight-lipped-ly critical of his protagonists' obsessions with objectifying non-white bodies, or if he needs someone to be like, "Yo, stop the minstrel show!"ANYWHO. Bit camp, bit tawdry, bit bloated. Worth the read, sure, but I would personally recommend Line of Beauty or Stranger's Child over this one.

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