on 29 February 2008
"The Folding Star" appeared six years after Hollinghurt's first book "The Swimming Pool Library". It was shortlisted for the Booker prize (he later won it with "The Line of Beauty") and is often on the list of the Greatest Ever Gay novels. It certainly deserves its reputation, it is a superbly written, rich dense novel yet I don't think I enjoyed it as much as his stunning debut book. Edward Manner's obsession with the boy he is tutoring is something I have always found just a little disturbing. I find him more objectionable as a character than I'd like to and the strange thing about this book, which stops me giving it the five stars it probably deserves is that it seems to work better for me when it moves out of its Flemish central location. The writing when Edward follows Luc, the teenager he is obsessed by and a couple of friends on their weekend in France, is just superb, as is the section in England when Edward returns home for a funeral, but the pace at other times in the novel can be a little sluggish. I don't really get any real sense of this Flemish city, and maybe that was the author's intention, but it seems to lack the real sense of place which is evident in "The Swimming Pool Library" and "The Line of Beauty". I do notice, however, that other reviewers have praised this aspect of the book, including a reviewer who has lived in Belgium and feels that Hollinghurst got it just right. Maybe it was differences of opinion like these which prevented it getting The Booker Prize. That said, this book demands to be read.
on 9 January 2008
As a long-term Belgian habitué I'd like to add another comment to the perceptive reviews of this superb novel, its profound sense of place. More than Hollinghurst's other novels, THE FOLDING STAR brilliantly evokes its locale, an anonymous Flemish city which is in fact an often uncanny amalgam of Brugge and Gent. It also evokes the strange multi-cultural aspects of the city and country, the distinctive quality of life in well-to-do Belgian homes and schools, and an almost eerie characterisation of Belgian teenage life.
More than any native novel which I know this book encapsulates the quality of lowland Belgium in the 1980s. It is far more than a 'gay' novel.
on 8 October 1999
This one of those rare novels you have to read from beginning to end - an achievement in itself. You won't get the flavour of it by simply dipping into it, and you cannot claim to have read it unless you have read the whole thing. In fact, to be honest, I was suspicious about it for much of the time, even while I was enjoying it. True, the Flemish city in which it is set is beautifully evoked; there is a marvellous sense of desolation in the juxtaposition of an ancient medieval burgher town and a North Sea resort out of season - a perfect setting for the central tale of frustrated, self-absorbed, beached love; and the whole thing is always beautifully crafted and paced. But I did think the main character was superficial and needed nothing more than a good slap, and the Symbolism, which forms the sub-text, is so heavy-handed that it makes irony look ironic - the narrator's first love was named Dawn, for God's sake, and the object of his Flemish obsession is called Luc(ifer), the Morning, Evening, Falling, Folding Star - otherwise known as the planet Venus. However, very suddenly, towards the end, just when you think there might be a neat resolution, the surface begins to shatter and break up, the ground collapses beneath you and the selfish farce becomes a universal tragedy. The author leaves you with a startling image that reminded me, strangely, of Tarkovsky: Symbolism suddenly made profound. You realise that this is a novel, not only perfectly-formed, but powerful and profound. It was shortlisted, but it didn't win the Booker prize that year; there must have been an embarrassment of masterpieces. Strangely, I don't recall.
Edward Manners takes up his position as private tutor in English to a couple of boys in Flanders. One boy, Marcel, the son of an expert in the fictitious painter Orst, the other the enchantingly beautiful seventeen year oldLuc, son of a parents now separated. Manners, who is in his early thirties, tells of his time in the Flemish city, and along the way fills in much about his own background and friends, including his early sexual exploits with boys at school and on the common.
Marcel's father takes a close interest in Edward, and enlists him in his compilation of the catalogue of Orst's work, and much of the novel dwells on the artist, his life and his work. But we also follow Edward as he makes new friends, including Chrerif who becomes his lover, and the enigmatic and insular Matt with his interesting and inventive ways of making money.
Inevitably manners fall in love with Luc, becoming obsessed with the boy, and longs to seduce him, and as he learns more about Luc the chances of achieving his aim seem more and more likely.
The Folding Star is hauntingly beautiful story, as much due to the quality of the descriptive powers of the prose. If I have a complaint it is that Hollinghusrt is a little too intent on the creation of the artist Edgard Orst, with several long passages devoted to him. Yet the story is very involving, and regularly throws up new twists and revelations as it winds its way to its somewhat unresolved conclusion.
on 27 September 2011
It is difficult to fault Alan Hollinghurst in terms of his writing. His dialogue is authentic and often inspired. His sense of place and context are both excellent. But...in this book at least, he describes, describes and describes. I would imagine that a good novel is often a balance between description, dialogue and action. In this book, the description overpowers the other two factors.
There were many times in The Folding Star when I found myself thinking, 'yes, I've got the hang of that, now can we move on please? But no, the author has to add yet another layer of description over the top of the existing text. Hollinghurst is often obsessed with epiphenomena.
If you don't mind over-larded description, the book is, in parts, an up-to-date Death in Venice. Somehow, though, Hollinghurst's characters are often a bit too precious and even too posh for my liking. I would love to see him tackle more ordinary characters. He is, after all, a wonderful writer. For me, mixed feelings about this book.
on 29 July 2014
I absolutely adore Alan Hollinghurst's work. There's something about his very literary prose combined with a grubby and completely uninhibited sexuality, and sensuality which makes for a great read. In the Folding Star the protagonist is a brilliant anti-hero, and along with the other main characters he's very well rounded and considered.
I've stopped short of scoring it five stars because the constant reference to Edgard Orst only came to life and made sense in the last quarter of the book. I also felt there wasn't strong enough management of Luc's character, which only developed properly in the last 50 pages and left me feeling frustrated at the end.
Overall it is a brilliant, witty and dark. It's the sort of book which would benefit from a second read.
on 5 January 2016
I discovered this, Unknown to me, on a communal bookshelf. A great admirer of Alan Hollinghurst I couldn't wait to start it.
Beautiful, lyrical prose and tender handling of the subjects. As a gay man I sometimes wonder why I am abashed at the honesty and realism of Hollinghurst writing. He always gets the tempo and timbre right, giving accurate accounts of "life at the time, and place"
So much symbolism, no cliche. Loved this book
on 5 November 2012
From the very start of "The Folding Star" we are aware that Ed Manners is a flawed character. For all his intelligence and good breeding he is just a little too willing to indulge in casual sex, and a little to forgiving of his growing sexual infatuation with his seventeen-year-old pupil, Luc. But somehow his imperfections make him all the more real and alive. He is laid bare before us in Hollingworth's lucid, fluent and robust language, which seems to find without mercy the perfect vocabulary, the ideal word. The uncompromising honesty forces us to be honest with ourselves - perhaps Ed's indulgences are not terribly worse than our own. He is flawed and so are we.
The story line is full of symbolism, which provides breadth and widens the story's plot interest. But it is also a novel about place and the people that inhabit it. As a middle-class gay Englishman myself, perhaps I have a natural sympathy with this novel, but this is much more than "gay fiction". It's an intriguing work that repays careful reading and reflection.
on 30 April 2016
Enjoyed this. Love Alan Hollinghurst - read this in one sitting - a good sign, but didn't read as deeply as say, The Strangers Child or The Line of Beauty. Still cracking read, but I would suggest for novices of Hollinghurst - go for one of other two!
on 10 October 2014
I read this in its original timeframe and enjoyed it. I am now putting my books into digital format and the twenty years difference in its content and who I am now, it was rambling and a bit samey. Sorry Alan.