Jessica's Reviews > The Swimming-Pool Library

The Swimming-Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst
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I need to stop doing this thing of, when I'm completely taken with a novel by a writer I've never read before, running out and instantly reading something else by that writer. It's just too much pressure, and I always wind up all pissed-off and disappointed. This has recently happened with Patrick Hamilton, Martin Amis, and now, Alan Hollinghurst – is there something about these Brits that they don’t make good second dates? When I read The Line of Beauty I loved it so much I was sick. Naturally I ran out that week and bought The Swimming-Pool Library, but I think I wanted too much, and was keyed up too high…. maybe it's too much to ask an author's first novel to deliver in the face of those expectations.

All this is not to suggest that The Swimming-Pool Library is not gorgeously written or at all without merit. There were a lot of good things about this book, and his descriptions of the club where he swims were so lovely and evocative that I actually looked into joining the Y, thinking that getting into lap swimming might be the secret to surviving a miserable winter. I'd probably not follow his example to the point of staring hungrily at other gym members' genitals in the shower, but who knows... Anyway, I didn't wind up joining the YMCA, and I've also decided, on page 112, to bail on this book.

To be fair, I've been extraordinarily cranky and picky lately, and nothing I read has satisfied me at all. The issue I had here was with the odious narrator. It's not like I need to become besties with whoever is telling the story, but writing a novel about an unlikeable person is tough, and for me, in this case, it just didn't work. The book is about a rich, lazy, snob who doesn't have to go to work or do anything, who just sort of shambles aimlessly around London reading books, working out, and fucking everything that moves. Since this is more or less how I’d like to live my own life, but can’t, I resented the character, who also seemed like a spoiled egomaniac without redeeming qualities. I wasn't interested in his thoughts or what happened to him, which is usually a deal breaker for loving a novel.

Maybe if I'd stuck with this longer, I would've developed feelings beyond bored irritation. Hollinghurst certainly is a fantastic writer, but for me he was not fantastic enough in 1988 to overcome my desire to smack his main character in the side of the head. I spend enough time already dealing with dull, entitled people who bore me, and I'm not sure why I should subject myself to them in fiction. I suspect that Hollinghurst was aware of potential for this response from readers, as in The Line of Beauty the main character is a striver who doesn’t really belong in the elite world that he describes. Must class resentment interfere with readers’ enjoyment of fiction? No, of course not: a lot of my favorite books are about idle rich people. It does require extra authorial skills to effect that empathy, though, and for me, with this book, it just didn’t happen. Also, it wasn’t just that he’s rich, it’s that I really don’t like him.

Again, this book isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. However, I’m not enjoying it, so I’m putting it down.
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Reading Progress

October 12, 2009 – Shelved
October 12, 2009 – Shelved as: groups-of-people
October 12, 2009 – Shelved as: hagging-out
October 12, 2009 – Shelved as: love-and-other-indoor-sports
October 12, 2009 – Shelved as: phys-ed
September 25, 2017 – Shelved as: aborted-efforts

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Eric I too read this after loving The Line of Beauty and found my enthusiasm dampened, or maybe tempered. If you decide to give him another go, check The Folding Star. It reignited my interest (and its narrator is a mopey sad sack...he has as much sex as Beckwith, just rarely with anyone he really wants), I tore through The Spell, and now I'm suffering withdrawal, pathetically pining for his next novel.

message 2: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Abigail, my mother has arthritis and has replacement joints -- she does water aerobics and finds them quite beneficial.

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