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The Sparsholt Affair

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  3,408 ratings  ·  579 reviews
From the internationally acclaimed winner of the Man Booker Prize, a sweeping new novel that explores richly complex relationships between fathers and sons as it spans seven transformative decades in England, from the 1940s through the present

In the fall of 1940, with the world at war, a young man arrives at Oxford to study engineering, though his sights are already set on
Hardcover, 419 pages
Published March 13th 2018 by Knopf Publishing Group (first published October 5th 2017)
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3.57  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,408 ratings  ·  579 reviews

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Six years ago, I loved Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child; I leapt on The Sparsholt Affair as soon as it was published, not least because I thought it sounded rather similar. The story is split into five parts, spanning a period of about 70 years. It opens with a first-person account set during the Second World War, with a group of Oxford students lodging together after being evacuated from their colleges. Freddie Green, who narrates, is the nexus of a group that also includes Evert Dax, t ...more
Alan Hollinghurst makes you wait for his meticulously crafted novels, so they feel rather an occasion when they arrive. He has published six now, at elegantly spaced intervals, over the almost thirty years since his 1988 debut, The Swimming-Pool Library, with his 2004 Booker prize-winning The Line of Beauty the most famous (and, in my view, the best.)

The Sparsholt Affair has strong structural and thematic affinities with Hollinghurst’s previous novel, The Stranger's Child. Both span a long perio
Oct 05, 2017 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
I have NOT read this new novel by Alan Hollinghurst yet - it only came out a few days ago - but if anyone has, I'd be grateful for a comment about it because PEOPLE: I'm due to ask AH himself a question on the phone this coming Monday! It's for BBC world book club and will air on British radio in November! Apparently they tracked down my review of his The Line of Beauty, and as Danes are in vogue in Britain, they picked me. Holy moly!
Feb 20, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2019, modern-lit
This was my second Hollinghurst after his Booker winner The Line of Beauty, which really impressed me and may have given me unrealistic expectations for this one, which seemed less funny, harder work and less interesting.

The book is in five parts, in chronological order at irregular intervals, all several years apart. The first is written as a memoir of a term spent at Oxford University in 1940. It introduced a group of friends all fascinated by a first year oarsman David Sparsholt. The narrator
* 3.5 *

This is my very first Hollinghurst and I was drawn to it by some notion of 1940s Oxford shenanigans. But the book is much broader in scope than that. Taking as it's canvas the cultural, social, and artistic changes in Britain over a period spanning the 1940s until today. The story is focused almost entirely on characters that are openly gay or very nearly so, and it is quite stunning and also eye-openingly bold in this regard. I have never read anything quite so beautifully written about
Oct 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 Hollinghurst's sixth novel recapitulates both the structure and themes of his last novel, and therein lies both its strengths and weaknesses. Divided into 5 sections, each taking place some ten or 20 years from the previous one, the reader has to work hard to not only fill in the gaps, but keep characters straight who are offstage for long periods of time (e.g., Jill, a very minor character from part one, makes a reappearance 250 pages on, when others arrive at her funeral, and I couldn't fo ...more
Joachim Stoop
A novel in 5 parts:

part 1: 4
part 2: 4,5
part 3: 1
part 4 & 5: 2

Proof that wonderful prose doesn't guarantee a compelling story.
This was waaaaay too long. The magnetic effect of the detailed descriptions and observations gradually lost power. I could't care less in the second half what yet another new soundalike character thought of this or that new lookalike character. Lots of editors seem to be on strike in 2017...
Roger Brunyate
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art, gay-lesbian
But how strange the chat between artist and sitter became in the long shadow of Pat's death, he couldn't describe it, it seemed a molecular change in the material of life itself. He knew his role so well, thirty years in the business, part servant, part entertainer, the visiting artisan with his humble superiority, his gift, and now and then the air of inspiration with which he pleased them, reassured them, and kept his distance. He followed the familiar pattern of talk, nothing
Gumble's Yard
Jun 08, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
“She had got out three possible photos for the order of service, which might have been captioned “War Hero”, “Criminal”, “Old Gent”.

A multi-decadal and multi-generational novel – in five distinct sections, which traces a group of people who meet at the start of the Second World War and the interactions of their lives (and those of their children and grandchildren) over the next 60 years. At the same time the novel explores changing social attitudes over that period and over generations – part
Andrew Schirmer
A new novel by Alan Hollinghurst is always an event. The paucity of Hollinghurst's output has been well-noted, the adherence to a leisurely timetable of a novel every 6-7 years. Add to this the Brexit-discounted pound, how could one not place a pre-order with Amazon UK and await the post for an early Xmas?

Early signs were good. The Sparsholt Affair is another grand canvas much in mould of The Stranger's Child, five distinct parts composing an elegant ellipsis. It begins in a place that Hol
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, arc
“I've developed an interest in him purely as the focus of your interest. Yours and Peter's,” I added, and watched him scowl. “I'm following the whole Sparsholt affair scientifically.”

I haven't read Alan Hollinghurst before, and as The Sparsholt Affair began, I thought I was in for a real treat: The first section – set at Oxford in 1940, with gowns and blackouts and fire watches on the ramparts – was wonderfully atmospheric, and as a group of young men yearn and strive for physical closeness (t
Dickon Edwards
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was fortunate enough to be sent an advance proof of this, just in time for my MA dissertation on music in the novels of Hollinghurst... Very grateful to Picador for that.

As of 15 Oct 2017, I've written a more thorough review for Birkbeck University's Contemporary Literature website. It features some detective work on my part, regarding the real-life images in the novel:

Briefly, I liked it a lot. Though I do like Hollinghurst a lot, regardless. Any Holli
Jun 23, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rich, ambitious and bursting with potential - this novel felt flat - especially compared to the author's novel "The Line of Beauty." The novel opens at Oxford during the London Blitz in 1940 and centers around David Sparsholt. Although the novel is named after his later scandal, he remains an enigma throughout. There were many passages and sentences that I admired, but I did not enjoy this novel. If it were not for my book club, I doubt that I would have finished it.
It seems the general consensus, based on reviews of Hollinghurst’s new novel, is that he’s recycled the structure of his prior novel, The Stranger’s Child, and that the vast majority of critics feel that this structure worked better in that novel than it does here.

Having been a long-time fan of Hollinghurst, and having read his work in order, watching his prose develop and observing as his scope gets wider and wider, I beg to disagree. While I liked The Stranger’s Child, I felt that the shiftin
Nicolas Chinardet
"When he came back from the loo, Ivan smiled at the others but he had the stupid feeling of having missed something - They were already adjusting to what had happened, the formulas of surprise passed around, repeated but diminishing, half-phrases. He looked from one to another as if the joke might yet be on him. 'What is it...?'

These few lines come fairly late in the book (p327) but summarise very well in my view the experience of reading this book.

Hollinghurst's perverse decision to seemingly
Jun 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I’m lost for words, unlike A.H. His seem to flow effortlessly across the page. So, my stab at a review will probably be a series of random thoughts.

The novel spans 70+ years – c. 1939 – c. 2012, set in England; it’s the most English novel I’ve read in a long time. Perhaps it should be required reading on the syllabus of would-be British citizens. Some no doubt would change their minds half way through the book, questioning their sanity in wanting to be “one of us” in the first place.

It opens
Jun 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My first Hollinghurst and certainly not my last. Some have said to me that this is not his best, if so then I cannot wait to read more because this is magnificent.

It reminds me of two other books: Anthony Powell's beguiling 12 novel series A Dance to the Music of Time, which I adored, as it uses a broad sweep of decades of English cultural, artistic and social changes as its canvas; and also, to a lesser extent, Anthony Quinn's wonderful Freya trilogy.

It's an epic novel which convincingly evoke
Eric Anderson
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Since Hollinghurst’s debut novel ‘The Swimming Pool Library’ in 1988, he’s published a new book in approximately six year intervals. This is enough of a gap for each new novel by this much-lauded writer to feel like an event. His 2011 novel ‘The Stranger’s Child’ was a long ambitious story spanning a period of time from the First World War to close to the present day. In chronicling the transition of time, he charted how the reputation of a poem and its poet transform over many years and subsequ ...more
Aug 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel is similar in structure to Hollinghurst's last one, The Stranger's Child, in that it jumps forward through time in each part. It tells the tale of David Sparsholt and his son Johnny from the Second World War to the present day. It begins with Freddie Green's account of David's arrival at Oxford University in 1940, and how his fine physique inspired an obsession in his gay friend Evert Dax. It moves forward to the 1960s, when the Sparsholt family - David, his wife Connie and their teen ...more
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
According to the press reviews, The Sparsholt Affair centers on a gay sex scandal (called - appropriately enough - the Sparsholt Affair) that shocks England in 1966, the year before homosexuality was officially "decriminalized."

This statement isn't false, but it isn't exactly true, either.

The novel is divided into five parts, set in 1940, 1966, 1973/4, 1995, and 2012. Key events - including the scandal itself - take place between the acts, leaving the reader to puzzle out what occurs during the
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having loved, “The Stranger’s Child,” I was looking forward to Alan Hollinghurst’s latest novel. “The Sparsholt Affair,” shares a lot in common with that, previous novel. It takes us through a fairly long period – from 1940’s Oxford to the present – and involves a number of inter-weaving characters.

The beginning contains more than a nod to Evelyn Waugh, with the storyline narrated by a young man named Freddie Green. Freddie is the member of a club, which invites authors to come to read to them.
May 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had a long, uninterrupted stretch of time to read, which is the best way to read Hollinghurst. You sink into his words and his world. I can see why Henry James is so important to him; there are definitely similarities.

The Sparsholt Affair refers to a number of different events and relationships. The central character around which so much of the book's actions revolve is David Sparsholt, whom we follow from Oxford to Cornwall to northern England, starting in 1939 and continuing almost to the pr
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbtq, novels
This book has pretty much all the things I disliked about The Stranger's Child, multiplied by three. I don't know what it is about Hollinghurst's novels; the premises have always everything I enjoy in life, and then the actual novels leave me feeling empty. Basically this is just a story about the long-term effects a very handsome dude has on multiple people in the course of 70 or so years, and that is just not enough plot to support a nearly-500-pages novel.
Oct 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hmm, this did not quite grab me the way I thought it would. I loved Hollinghurst’s writing style: spare, full of conversation fragments, allusions to past and future events, indirect references that you had to re-read to get the meaning, sometimes not apparent until pages later. It’s at once simple but alluringly multilayered. However the subject matter didn’t do it for me; I don’t mean the gay sex – that was actually quite an interesting eye-opener! – but the upper-middle class talk of the Lond ...more
Claire Fuller
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017
Very similar in structure to The Stranger's Child, I loved this as much as I loved that, and The Line of Beauty, and The Swimming Pool library. Not an awful lot happens, although many years pass, but these are fairly ordinary lives. I just love how Hollinghurst writes, how he gets the tiny nuances of relationships: one man wanting another, who doesn't really love him back.
I was lucky enough to get my hands on a proof copy, and I'm going to see Hollinghurst speak in October.
Jaclyn Crupi
Jan 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How does Hollinghurst do it? He writes a 450-page book in which not much happens despite the passage of time and yet he manages to fill it with small and not so small moments, all perfectly captured and characters you can’t help but care deeply about. His main preoccupation with this novel is time; both the passing of it and societal changes. It’s stunning. My first five-star read of 2018.
Vivek Tejuja
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
To read an Alan Hollinghurst novel is to give in. I realized that when I read “The Swimming Pool Library” for the first time and that was also the first time I read a Hollinghurst novel. I was exploring my sexuality. I was learning what it was to be gay and sometimes all you need is another’s experiences – fictional or real to help you tide through and that is what Hollinghursts’ novels did for me. They gave me hope and joy, made me cry, and at the end of all it, made me realize my potential and ...more
James Chatham
[4.5 stars]

Alan Hollinghurst’s new novel, The Sparsholt Affair, is an impressive portrait of the titular character, David Sparsholt, through the eyes of various people surrounding him. Beautifully and sensually written, it follows three generations, from Sparsholt’s contemporaries at Oxford to his son to his granddaughter. The major theme running through the novel is time. There seems to be a comparison between the time one has to follow their desires in their youth vs. the dwindling of time as
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contemporanea, uk
A highly ambitious novel depicting the evolution of British society from World War II to the present day, the reshaping of perceptions about being gay, the transformation of family and relationships and the unceasing power of art and desire.
The story begins in Oxford during the blackout days, where a group of friends is seduced by the appearance of David Sparsholt, a new student coming from another college who also happens to be a brawny rower and a flirt. From the second part onwards the novel
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A lovely novel exploring the lives of a gay father and son from World War II Oxford to 1990's London. Gorgeous writing, fascinating construction and, fittingly given the novel's themes, key plot points are occluded.
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Alan Hollinghurst is an English novelist, and winner of the 2004 Booker Prize for The Line of Beauty.

He read English at Magdalen College, Oxford graduating in 1975; and subsequently took the further degree of Master of Literature (1979). While at Oxford he shared a house with Andrew Motion, and was awarded the Newdigate Prize for poetry in 1974, the year before Motion.

In the late 1970s he became a
“It is hard to do justice to old pleasures that cannot be revived—we seem half to disown our youthful selves, who loved and treasured them.” 0 likes
“In truth the memoir was a game of postponement – a trick he played on himself almost daily, and fell for every time. There would be a poor and evasive morning, with letters to write as well, and a number of phone calls that had to be made; then lunch, at a place not necessarily close, and several things to do after lunch, with mounting anxiety in the two hours before six o’clock: and then a drink, a glow of resolve and sensible postponement till the following morning, when, too hung-over to do much work before ten, he would seek infuriated refuge, about eleven forty-five, in the trying necessity of going out once more to lunch. Over lunch, at Caspar’s or at the Garrick, he would be asked how work was going, when it could be expected, and the confidence of the questioner severely inhibited his answers – they had a bottle of wine, no more, but still the atmosphere was appreciably softened, his little hints at difficulties were taken as mere modesty – ‘I’m sure it will be marvellous’ – ‘It will take as long as it takes’ – and he left fractionally consoled himself, as if some great humane reprieve were somehow possible, and time (as deadline after deadline loomed and fell away behind) were not an overriding question. In the evenings especially, and towards bedtime, half-drunk, he started seeing connexions, approaches, lovely ideas for the work, and sat suffused with a sense of the masterly thing it was in his power to do the next morning.” 0 likes
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