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3.7 out of 5 stars46
3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 7 February 2008
I read this book twenty 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")I've never gone back to this one. Until now. I thought the twenty years might have 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 twenty years older the slightly old-fashioned 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 20 years like I did). It is remarkably honest and sexy. I'm going to re-read the other Hollinghurst novels - because here I think we may have one of our greatest living authors- I might even give "The Spell" another try.
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on 7 April 2011
Enjoyable novel, much in the vein of Hollinghurt's other work. But honestly, couldn't the publisher bother to proof-read the electronic version...? Appears as if they have scanned a hard copy and it just hasn't decoded the text properly. 1 instead of I; d instead of cl; closed gaps between words; others word just complete garbage. Given there is in error on every page or two it really gets in the way of enjoying the book. As the Kindle edition sells for the same price as the paperback it does feel like we're being taken for a ride.
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on 13 March 2001
The world of this book is a rather specific one - that of the male gay Englishman in the 20th century, so if you aren't male, or gay, or English, you might want to pop your head out of the book and gasp for air every so often. Also the graphic descriptions of homosexual congress can make it an uncomfortable read on crowded commuter trains, as I discovered to my cost. Having said that, the book is well, if lavishly, written, and the interlocking tales of danger and desire work together to produce a brilliantly cohesive picture of the evolution of English gay life before the onset of AIDS. The story centres on the relationship between the narrator, a privileged and promiscuous young aristocrat, and the elderly Lord Nantwich, whose life he saves in a public toilet. Nantwich turns out to have had quite an eventful life, as we discover when the narrator is asked to write his biography. The depictions of white boys attracted to black boys are particularly well-handled, and the twists and turns of the plot never take you where you expect. The book's world may be insular, but its immersion in and explication of that world is brilliantly realised.
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on 27 April 2012
This is a very fine novel, beautifully written and quintessentially English, drenched in the atmosphere of London; it's amusing, provocative, shocking, and yes, sad - sad in the sense that people who gives themselves over to their sexual appetites and to gratifying their momentary physical needs with such devotion seem to construct a prison for themselves, heterosexual or gay. This is a lavish portrait of suffering, yet intelligent and eminently readable.
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on 2 January 2012
The Swimming Pool library is set in 1983 pre AIDS London and focusses on a highly sexed gay young rich (not particularly likeable) man who doesn't have much to do other than scoring, largely with total strangers and who is then given a job by an elderly peer to write his biography, with surprising revelations.

Honestly it was good to start with in its inevitable shocking sense but just got so tedius very quickly. Surely the main character could find other things to do for the majority of the day other than seeking or having sex with lovers and total strangers including in porn cinemas, public toilets, etc. etc.

But there was a reasonable story behind the soft porn and the book is well written by the author so overall i gave it a good rating and worth reading. Just less of the graphical sex would have been the icing on this books cake.
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on 9 September 2012
In a review for Hollinghurst's 'The Line of Beauty' I described the first eleven chapters as 'absurdly entertaining.' I would say the same of much of 'The Swimming Pool Library.' It provides a real insight into gay life and is highly entertaining. My only reason for not giving this book five stars is that many of the descriptive passages are over blown and I found Lord Nantwich's diary entries tedious. Once again I think that Alan Hollinghurts needs a good editor. Nevertheless I would give this novel the highest recommendation for entertainment value. I also like the way that the author goes inside his narrator's head and describes his thoughts and feelings. I have now read this and 'The Line of Beauty' and 'The Stranger's Child.' What next? Am I ready yet for some Edmund White?
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on 25 May 2012
This book divided members of our book group on age lines. The older people saw it as an accurate reflection on the hedonistic pre-AIDS days. The pub is based on a place where the author drank and there are vivid scenes remembered from twenty years ago. The younger members thought it unrealistic.

The central character is, by and large, self-absorbed, though he has flashes of self-awareness.

It is a mixture of fantasy and reality in which the characters are over-confident.

There are acute descriptions and observations, though the six-year-old is precocious - why? Is this a farce? The story doesn't go anywhere because the people's lives aren't going anywhere.
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on 30 September 2012
I've come to be a great admirer of Hollinghurst's work in recent years. The Line of Beauty was delicious, and not as explicit as this, and The Stranger's Child was beautiful (and a lot more acceptable to people who don't appreciate gay sex in such detail, I'd imagine).

This book does get really explicit, maybe even unnecessarily so, but then it wouldn't be the same book if it were any different. I can't say I relate to Will in some of his more promiscuous ways but I like him. He's honest, he's erudite, funny, innocent in a way, and a complete hypocrite.

The real attraction though, is Hollinghurst's writing. It is glorious. His command of English is humbling, and his power of observation unnerving. His depiction of Charles, especially in his diaries, is generally touching. There are dark moments, but of course this is only natural, and a side to which most of us can surely identify with.

I highly recommend this book. I read it recently on holiday, and it was a highlight of the trip. I feel if I were to criticize it, it would merely be to appear balanced or considered. If you can appreciate as near a perfect turn of phrase you're likely to read, or ever wonder what must be running through others' minds as they consider you, I'm sure any of his works will not disappoint.
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on 21 November 2006
Wow. This is a literary but very erotic book which takes for its subject a hidden English sexual subculture which doesn't often register in mainstream life. I would recommend it to people of all sexualities.

The main focus is on metropolitan gay life in the early 1980s, before AIDS, and the novel's protagonist William Beckwith is suitably hedonistic and frequently debauched. He's not always likeable but the sensuous and sensual character of Hollinghurst's prose keeps you reading as you enter seedy flats, exclusive gentlemen's clubs and darkened caverns.

Hollinghurst's graceful, elegant prose is the work of a mind which has digested a library-load of English prose. Despite its forays into underground porn cinemas and gay cottaging, this is a book which is deeply aware of tradition and the relationship between history and the present; the dead haunt every page.

Highly recommended.
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on 13 January 2004
Like all of Hollinghurst's writing, this book will not suit the average tabloid-reader with a limited vocabulary. If your idea of the acme of writing is Jeffrey Archer be prepared for a far richers and more rewarding experience.
Whilst the story is a racy delve into the darker parts of gay life it is not without its lighter moments. There is drama, comedy and tragedy to be found here.
Although the subject matter is modern the writing seems to come from another altogether more refined era. The author will challenge your broader cultural knowledge with his witty asides and the fullness of the characters. They are fully-rounded and flawed.
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