Saturday, August 7, 2010

Review of The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst

The Swimming Pool Library is mostly driven by its characters and their relationships with one another, and the narrator, Will, in particular.  I was immediately charmed by Will, despite the fact that he was selfish, narcissistic, and a deadbeat, and I am a sucker for any character that I find charismatic.  His commentary on his world of hedonism is humorous. I think it takes skill on the writer's part to endear readers to a character with such deplorable traits.  It's fun to explore imperfection in humanity. I can also relate more to flawed characters, so it's easier for me to root for them.  Will's friend James points out some of these unattractive characteristics, and pokes fun at Will for them, which makes him an engaging character as well.  Both Will and James are gay and have an intimate friendship, but neither one is truly romantically or sexually interested in the other, which I found fascinating.  There is sexual tension between them which is made evident by their teasing repertoire with one another, yet there seems to be a divide between them that prevents romantic feelings from blossoming.  Charles Nantwich is another intriguing character.  He remains a mystery throughout the novel, and provides the reader with constant questions about his motives and past.  Thus, he makes the story readable. However, some of these questions are not fully explained, which is frustrating.  The several humorous incidents and conversations that occur in the novel also contribute to The Swimming Pool Library's readability.  Some  involve Will and the guys he picks up, and there is a funny conversation between Will and his very young nephew about homosexuality. 
Despite my enjoyment of the novel, I was bothered by inconsistencies in the treatment of the gay man.  A puzzling, problematic issue in the novel is that though Hollinghurst celebrates homosexuality throughout the book, he also condemns the gay experience as being grimy and superficial. Will chooses his partners based exclusively on their physical appearance, and his copulations with them are usually as devoid of romance as skid marks on the driveway.  He also refuses to commit to a monogamous relationship.  Furthermore, Hollinghurst vindicates Will's practice as being part of the normal gay lifestyle, which suggests that most gay men do not have healthy, romantic monogamous relationships, which I'm sure is false. 
The mystery, humor, and charismatic characters in The Swimming Pool Library make me anxious to read more of Hollinghurst's work. 
Rating: B

1 comment:

  1. I've just finished this (it was my third Hollinghurst) - I'd definitely recommend some of his later books, not as raw, but better-rounded novels.

    My review: The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst