Author: Alan Hollinghurst
Publisher: Picador India
ISBN/UPC (if available): 0330436236
It is the summer of 1983, and young Nick Guest, an innocent in matters of politics and money, has moved into an attic room in the Notting Hill home of the Feddens: Gerald, an ambitious new Tory M P, his wealthy wife Rachel, and their children, Toby and Catherine.
As the boom years of the mid-80s unfold, Nick becomes caught up in the Feddens world, while also pursuing his own private obsession, with beauty- a prize as compelling to him as power and riches are to his friends. An early affair with a young black council worker gives him his first experience of romance; but it is a later affair, with a beautiful millionaire, that brings into question the larger fantasies of a ruthless decade.
This is the first Hollinghurst I have read as I was drawn, as I suppose many readers were, by its winning of the Booker Prize. And it certainly is literary: not in the impenetrable, dense way that much high literature is, but in its subtle craftmanship. Every sentence is carefully hewn and reading this impressive book is like eating luxurious comfort food (without being sick).
While the book is relatively plotless (which appears to have attracted accusations of being boring or directionless), the writing is stunning and the depth of characterisation and acuity of observation is marvellous. The spirit of Henry James haunts the book both explicitly (the narrator, Nick, is struggling through a PhD on the author) but also stylistically. Hollinghurst's depiction of decaying class structures and the amoralities of Thatcher's Britain echo James's own writing from a century earlier.
So, the writing is fantastic and the observation keen. Throughout, you marvel at how Hollinghurst has pinpointed the subtleties of the human range of emotions with rapier accuracy. He seems to have a deeper intuitive understanding of human motivations, frailties and emotions than any other British contemporary write that I have read (admittedly not a huge number).
The narrative arc, while not exactly sinuous, is satisfying and the slow build to the dramatic conclusion is nicely paced. Also, the device of the smart, slightly off-stage, narrator (a la Great Gatsby for example) is engaging. It draws you in with its complicity of ironic distancing. This elision of the reader's and Nick's own thoughts and observations ensures that the book remains gripping is spite of its sedate pace. You are there with Nick, experiencing at first hand the rogue's gallery of dilletantes and go-getters that swarmed around the Tory honeypot.
In the end, I felt like I had dined at the top table. This is a treat of a novel which although lacking the strong hit of breakneck plotting or heavy polemic does weave a subtle blend of flavours which leave the reader heartily satiated. For lovers of beautifully crafted lines, this is highly recommended.
- A Reviwer in Amazon.com
As good as the English novel gets. Almost every sentence is a thing of beauty and the book as a whole will prove itself a joy for ever, the definitive reimagining of the decade of Thatcher and AIDS.
-Jonathan Bate, SUNDAY TIMES
Alan Hollinghurst is in the prime of his writing life, and the immaculate rolling cadences of his new novel are right now the keenest pleasure English prose has to offer.
-Anthony Quinn, Daily Telegraph
Hollinghurst can make language do what he wants, It makes a lot of contemporary fiction seem thin and underachieving. A brilliantly comical and accurate satire upon the high noon of Mrs Thatcher.
-Nicola Shulman, Evening Standard