Nicola's Reviews > The Swimming-Pool Library

The Swimming-Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst
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Jun 07, 07

bookshelves: recommended, lgbt, fiction
Recommended for: anyone
Read in April, 2007

First let me say that Hollinghurst's prose amaaaaazed me. I read The Line Of Beauty a couple of years ago and I remember thinking that he was an excellent writer. But The Swimming Pool Library blew me away in a way that The Line Of Beauty did not. Somehow among contemporary authors there seems to be this thing where "being literary" is equated with "totally overwriting". Ian McEwan or Michael Chabon, for example, I find their prose needlessly dense and wearing to read. I feel like every word has been written and rewritten and rewritten till the prose is just pummelled dry of life. There's perfectionism and then there's sucking everything natural out of the writing. (This has turned into a rant against two writers I dislike and I didn't mean for that to happen. Heh. Oops. Moving on...) Anyway, my point is, Hollinghurst has a great degree of polish to his prose, but retains a kind of effortless naturalness. It's a pleasure to read.

(Needless to say, this novel made me feel massively inadequate about my own writing. Boo. I suppose it's the price you pay for reading good books.)

The degree to which I adored the writing style really did make up for the fact that... this really wasn't my kind of book. For a variety of reasons:

1) The upper classes just make me roll my eyes, mostly; I don't really care about their "problems". Even with the Arthur subplot, one did not get the sense that the protagonist saw any difference between Arthur's life of soul-destroying institutionalized poverty and street culture, and the fact that his own new friend might be screwing him over just a bit. o__O

2) I like a strong story arc, and this novel just meandered along, often forgetting to mention (much less highlight) important plot points. I suppose it was only intended as a snapshot of someone's life, but I found that vaguely dissatisfying.

3) Although the final Nantwich "twist" was a wonderful sucker punch, I never felt the journal entries gelled with the rest of the novel. The "shorthand" style of those passages felt almost unreadably contrived compared to the perfection of the rest of Hollinghurst's prose.

4) The place where I felt like Hollinghurst's prose fell down was in his dialogue (and I am a whore for good dialogue), which was flat and frequently wrongly set out.

5) NO WOMEN. None. None.

Despite my misgivings, I really did enjoy it immensely. So if you're looking for a heartbreakingly well-written book which contains a lot of gay sex, I would recommend it!
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