100 Essential Books – The Swimming Pool Library – Alan Hollinghurst (1988)

imagesswimmingpoolI read this book over twenty-five years ago when it first came out. Although I remember loving it, I’ve always had it linked in my head with a strange experience I had with finding some letters belonging to an elderly vicar in a library copy (it’s a long story, and given the themes of the book oddly appropriate and the vicar proved to be quite hard to shake off!) so although I’ve read and really enjoyed other Hollinghurst books (didn’t go a great deal on “The Spell”) it took me a long time to go back to this one.  I thought the intervening years might dulled its appeal, but it is an outstanding novel. It probably was one of the first UK books to have gay life as a central theme within a literary framework and it still has the power to draw the reader in, to shock, to surprise and to entertain. And it is so well written. I thought because I’m now that much older the slightly outdated class and race aspects might leave me cold, but they didn’t. It’s an incredibly intense and rich novel, which repays re-reading (even if you leave it as long as I did) . It is remarkably honest and sexy.  Hollinghurst is one of our greatest living authors and the quality of this debut is certainly up there with his Booker Prize winning “The Line Of Beauty” (a review of which will feature in a future 100 Essential Books) and that is one of the best ever books to win that award.   In a world where TV shows such as “Cucumber”, “Banana” and “Looking” have become mainstream it is amazing to recall how, when this appeared, how radical it seemed. fivestars

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