Monday, January 14, 2019

Book Review: The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Pages: 417


This epic presents the arc of English gay history from the 1940s to 2012, particularly the changing attitudes of the British public toward the LGBT community during that time. The story covers three generations of friends who meet at Oxford in 1940, and the people who come into and go out of their lives. These characters have affairs with each other, go to war, marry, divorce, remarry, raise children, all within the backdrop of dealing with bigotry and intimidation.

Although the title is named for David Sparsholt, the protagonist turns out to be David’s son, Johnny Sparsholt, who shows up in part two. Much of the story is Johnny having to deal with living with the shame that his father’s affair with another man became a national news scandal. In fact, Dave Sparsholt is almost always seen through the eyes of other characters rather than being on the page himself.

The core of enjoyment for me was the gorgeous language and detailed writing style the author brings to all his works. Hollinghurst is a master of the written word, and that shows in every paragraph. 

That said, I (and several others in my book club) felt that much of the story was too slow paced, to the point of being boring. There is very little conflict throughout the story, and what there is tends to be very subtle. It was a struggle to finish it.

The Sparsholt Affair is not for the lazy reader. It is a complex story where many blanks are given for the reader to fill in. The author adroitly captures the lives of gay men, from the longing of adolescence to the acceptance of old age. It is a story beautifully told.

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