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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Twenty years on this is still superb!
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...
Published on 7 Feb 2008 by Amazon Customer

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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Kindle version riddled with typos
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...
Published on 7 April 2011 by Fraser Dyer


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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Twenty years on this is still superb!, 7 Feb 2008
By 
Amazon Customer (Isle of Wight UK) - See all my reviews
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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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Kindle version riddled with typos, 7 April 2011
By 
This review is from: The Swimming Pool Library (Vintage Blue) (Kindle Edition)
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A decent story compromised, 16 May 2011
By 
Paul Christian "gogolesque" (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
There is a decent story in this book but unfortunately the author's constant reversion to gratuitous and extraneous descriptions of sex rather detract from it. Having created the most dreadful and unlikeable main character, the selfish, vain and utterly loathesome Will, the writing, whilst good at times, degenerates regularly into juvenile descriptions of sex, featuring the dreadful Will and his constant flow of liasons and 'partners' none of whom I'd imagine would find such a ruthlessly self centred vaccuous person attractive.
The ostensible main story is thoroughly spoiled by these incessant diversions and I'd have to say that when the whole book is taken into account, it is disappointing. I'm rather curious as to the writer's motivation for the inclusion of some of these rather jolting distractions, but as the book progressed, they became so dull and dreary, that one found oneself skimming through until yet another of these episodes was over with.
It's rather a pity as some of the writing is good and the main story, had it been concentrated on rather more and a less odious dramatis personae created, could have been much better.
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56 of 61 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly realised and frequently steamy novel, 13 Mar 2001
By A Customer
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very gay, very thoughtful - well worth reading!, 12 Nov 2008
By 
A compelling and sexy novel about a decadent, gay young aristocrat in 80s London whose life is changed irrevocably when he saves the life of the elderly Lord Nantwich. Will has time on his hands and little in his life but sex and self-indulgence, so when his new friend asks him to write his memoirs he cannot find a good enough excuse to say no.

From the moment Will starts reading the journals of Charles Nantwich, new truths and new perspectives are opened up to him. The people he thought he knew are thrown into new light, new histories are revealed, and all the while his life goes on, clawing its way towards a new maturity.

The intertwining of Will's London and Charles's experiences as a young man, at university, as a soldier abroad, and into middle age, works beautifully and doesn't confuse the reader or become offputting. At the same time the novel raises many complex issues around class, sexuality and race over the decades, and the treatment of minority groups in England. The end was frustratingly brief and inconclusive, but the rest of the novel was absorbing enough to excuse it. I'm glad I got it out the library as I don't think I'd read it again, but I would definitely recommend it to people with open minds who don't mind putting a bit of thought into their reading experience.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Point of order, Mr H..., 9 Jun 2013
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I think that Alan Hollinghurst is one of the finest styists writing in English today. "The Swimming-pool library" is less mature and brilliant than "Stranger's child" but it is nevertheless a superb piece of literature. The characterisation has improved, from the somewhat awkward types populating his early work to the more subtle and varied psychology of the later stuff. If you love good English, you'll surely love Alan Hollinghurst.
What troubles me about all his books is the sex. Apart from one memorable pairing in The Line of Beauty, hardly any of it ever seems to involve love, which is really bizarre. The ghastly central character of "The Folding Star" speaks about his lust for the under-age boy of his obsession as love and he is the extreme end of a principle which seems to run through Hollinghurst's work like a theme.
It's as if just about none of his characters ever grow up into people who can genuinely and freely give themselves to the other; sexual encounters 90% of the time are onanistic lust-couplings - and it seems that they are the norm for him.
Sexual relationships are not always the fleeting, desperate and loveless experiences which he describes: my thinking is that this is probably the main shortcoming which stands in the way of Hollinghurst being accepted as our foremost novelist.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Writing of the first rank, 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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent exploration of recent gay history, 27 Dec 2008
By 
Dandy Highwayman (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
London, 1983. William Beckwith, young, gay, indolent and aristocratic, devotes his existence to the pursuit of pleasure, enjoying numerous casual affairs with a variety of men. By chance, he happens to meet and save the life of Charles Nantwich, an elderly peer who collapses in a public lavatory. Upon meeting soon after at the `Corinthian Club', the gym to which they both belong, they ease into a sort of friendship, and Charles, his life nearing its end, asks the ever-idle Will to write his biography.

So begins The Swimming Pool Library (1988), Alan Hollinghurst's literary debut and the first of his novels I've read. While the story is mostly told from Will's point of view, the diaries and letters lent to him by Charles as research allow a parallel story to emerge, each extract offering a glimpse into the youth of Charles Nantwich and revealing curious similarities with Will's own life.

From early homosexual experimentation at their respective boarding schools to their deep love of black men, both characters share more than their background and privilege. The rampant homophobia in Charles' time, in an age where homosexuality was not only hidden but illegal has not disappeared in the supposedly enlightened era of the 1980s (as indeed it hasn't to this day.) Nevertheless, from the material Will has for his research it is clear that Charles, in his youth at least, has managed to lead an extraordinarily active life.

While Charles' story as told in his diaries becomes ever more intriguing, Will's sexual appetite never seems to diminish, and the author seems to delight in throwing in ever-more detailed descriptions of his exploits to break up each chapter. Some readers might find the graphic description off-putting or even shocking, quite an impressive achievement for a book celebrating its twentieth birthday this year. The `Corry', as the Corinthian Club is known to its regulars has a distinctly gay atmosphere, the members making no pretence about checking each other out in the showers and hooking up afterwards.

The real-life but somewhat obscure author Ronald Firbank is quoted often and makes several appearances through mentions of his books and in the admiration and esteem that James, Will's best friend, confers upon him. Firbank wrote novels of rich dialogue and almost comically light plots, brimming with camp excess. While some have derided his work as unimportant, other writers such as Evelyn Waugh and W.H. Auden praised his writing highly. Hollinghurst too is clearly a fan, and he expertly weaves choice phrases and cameo appearances of the man into nearly every chapter.

One of the most striking themes that run through the book is that of desperate loneliness. Each major character is fundamentally alone; Will has many acquaintances and enjoys an active sex life, but he freely admits to himself that he has no true friends, with the exception of James, whom he rarely sees. James is a somewhat tragic character, clever, kind and always working, but unable to attract a man and form the meaningful relationship he so obviously craves. Meanwhile Charles, rich and exciting as his life may have been, is the living embodiment of the solitary man, destined to die without love and companionship.

As Will is forced to examine his own past while investigating that of his charmingly forgetful friend, it soon becomes apparent that he has a closer connection with Charles than he could ever have realised. Tantalisingly, the puzzle pieces never quite fall into place, and even by the last page much remains a mystery. The Swimming Pool Library isn't a happy-ever-after, but by the end, it does leave room for hope.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars just brilliant!, 21 Nov 2006
By 
A reader (brighton, UK) - See all my reviews
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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39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sumptuous writing, 13 Jan 2004
By 
ch0pper "ch0pper" (SOUTHAMPTON, Hampshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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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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