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The Sparsholt affair by Alan Hollinghurst
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The Sparsholt affair (edition 2017)

by Alan Hollinghurst

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4241742,953 (3.78)24
"From the internationally acclaimed winner of the Man Booker Prize, a masterly new novel that spans seven transformative decades in England--from the 1940s to the present--as it plumbs the richly complex relationships of a remarkable family. In 1940, David Sparsholt arrives at Oxford to study engineering, though his sights are set on joining the Royal Air Force. Handsome, athletic, charismatic, he is unaware of his effect on others--especially on Evert Dax, the lonely son of a celebrated novelist who is destined to become a writer himself. With the world at war, and the Blitz raging in London, Oxford nevertheless exists at a strange remove: a place of fleeting beauty--and secret liaisons. A friendship develops between these two young men that will have unexpected consequences as the novel unfolds. Alan Hollinghurst's new novel explores the legacy of David Sparsholt across three generations, on friends and family alike; we experience through its characters changes in taste, morality, and private life in a sequence of vividly rendered episodes: a Sparsholt holiday in Cornwall; eccentric social gatherings at the Dax family home; the adventures of David's son Johnny, a painter in 1970s London; the push and pull in a group of friends brought together by art, literature, and love. And evoking the increasing openness of gay life, The Sparsholt Affair becomes a meditation on human transience, even as it poignantly expresses the longing for permanence and continuity."--… (more)
Member:m_leigh
Title:The Sparsholt affair
Authors:Alan Hollinghurst
Info:London : Picador, 2017.
Collections:Your library
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The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst

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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
4.5 stars. The multiple narrator thing confused me a time or two but really loved the 7 decade story arc. If you’re looking to broaden your horizons with reading, this is LGBTQ. ( )
  amandanan | Jun 6, 2020 |
Evert Dax seduces David Sparsholt at Oxford during the War. This is just a curtain raiser to the story of David's son Jonathan as a gay adolescent and man from the 1960s to the 2000s.

I enjoy Alan Hollinghurst's books while I'm reading them, but I sometimes wish the characters didn't all inhabit the same rather rarified social milieu. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Nov 23, 2019 |
I rarely read reviews of novels that I know I will read eventually, but I wonder if in this case I might have been prepared and thus understood more what this book was about before diving into it. I'm not disappointed in the book--on the contrary, it's a lusciously-literary, Victorian-like gay novel, a mashup of Henry James and George Eliot in a way, minus, respectively, the one's psychological meanderings or the other's morality.

I was expecting something more concrete, around which the lives of the approximately 75 years of events unfold for David, Evert, Johnny, Ivan, Lucy, and a bevy of other characters, gay or otherwise, who appear throughout this novel. In Hollinghurst's last book, "The Stranger's Child," the story revolved around a poem and how it was recounted and reinterpreted over time, so here I kept looking for that linchpin, and it was only after the book was done that I realized it was there, but not in the form of a thing, but an action, an event. In a way, the success of the plot of "Sparsholt" is what is not there, and the beautifully lyrical writing that recounts how the characters act and react around this over the decades.

It is a slow novel and takes time to read and absorb, but you do get caught up in it and in the lives of the characters, to the point that you mourn those who pass on when you meet them again 20, 40, or more years later. The fact that the protagonist (if we can call him that), Johnny, is a portrait painter plays out beautifully as well, as an observer and participant in life (his life and others' lives). His awareness of beauty in art and nature and people only enhances the reader's respect for his personal anxieties. I recommend the book if one wants to absorb oneself in a contemporary novelist's poetic, paced writing.

Case in point: here is one of the exquisite passages to luxuriate in, on page 288 of the paperback edition. Johnny has taken in the street scene and Thames embankment in Chelsea London, then goes back to look at a painting by James McNeill Whistler on the wall: "Beyond the traffic, between the plane trees, lay the grey expanse of the river, the cold wellings and streakings of its currents. And on the other side, an odd ruinous nothing--which Whistler (when Johnny came back in and looked again) seemed already to have noted in the three brown brushstrokes whose mere accidents, the spread and flick of a loose hair, the ghost of a bubble, the sticky split second as the brush left the canvas, were also small miracles of observation, a wall, a roof, a chimney rising through the mist. Well, it was genius, and he smiled round at the women, who were looking at each other steadily through Fran's cigarette smoke." ( )
  bklynbiblio | Sep 3, 2019 |
I had a long, uninterrupted stretch of time to read, which is the best way to read Hollinghurst. You sink into his words and his world. I can see why Henry James is so important to him; there are definitely similarities.

The Sparsholt Affair refers to a number of different events and relationships. The central character around which so much of the book's actions revolve is David Sparsholt, whom we follow from Oxford to Cornwall to northern England, starting in 1939 and continuing almost to the present. He is central in the lives of a number of men and women, not least his son, Johnny Sparsholt, whom we meet as a little boy and whose life provides the bulk of the novel's structure after the first third or so. Together, father and son provide a window into the changing world of middle-class gay British men and their milieus. David is closeted and suffers from the strictures and mores of his era. Much of his suffering is self-inflicted but completely understandable. Johnny is much more at ease with himself and is able to take advantage of changes that make being gay easier. We see both men from their teens to their middle and old age as they navigate family (found and biological), friend circles, and careers.

Hollinghurst's writing is as gorgeous and evocative as ever. It's not showy, but you don't want to rush through it. He has a way of creating a complete world that may not be familiar but which never feels strange. It's a very white, middle- and upper-class world, but its fully realized and feels appropriate to the era and subjects he's engaging. When I finished the novel I wanted to go back and read it all over again. I'm not entirely sure why, because I didn't love all the characters and the plot, while interesting and well developed, isn't that gripping. But there's something about the book that feels so complete, immersive, and utterly satisfying. ( )
  Sunita_p | May 18, 2019 |


13. Review - [The Sparsholt Affair] by [[Alan Hollinghurst]]

With [[Alan Hollinghurst]] novels you always know roughly what you'll get - a story revolving around gay men moving in wealthy upper class social circles in London, and absolutely fabulous writing.

This is the fourth Hollinghurst I've read now, and is up there as one of my favourites, possibly only beaten by [The Line of Beauty]. It's a modern family saga with the enigmatic David Sparsholt as the thread that links it all together, starting off at Oxford University in the early part of WWII and moving through the decades up to present day London. Although David Sparsholt is at the core of each of the five sections of the novel, at the same time he's merely an accessory to the plot. We're teased by Hollinghurst into wanting to delve more into his story, but he only allows us partial hints here and there, which somehow reflects the private mystery that is the man himself.

From the second section onwards, the novel unfolds from the perspective of his son Jonathan. I'd been hugely enjoying the first section set in 1940s Oxford, and would have been quite happily languished there for the remainder of the book. The move in the next section to the 1960s and the distancing of the main thrust of the story from David Sparsholt initially broke the spell for me a little as I'd been enjoying the period setting of the first section, but I took it for what it was and enjoyed Jonathan's moving through the decades as a painter in London who becomes connected with his father's old Oxford acquaintances.

[The Sparsholt Affair] is a great alternative modern day family saga, centred around the awkward father / son relationship between a gay man keeping up a life of heterosexual pretence - despite having been scandalously outed decades before - and his openly gay son. The two men are from very different eras with vastly differing acceptance of homosexuality, their shared sexuality the elephant of truth in the room that David Sparsholt can never acknowledge to allow their relationship to fully flourish.

All in all, another great Hollinghurst read. I still would have liked to have stayed more with David Sparsholt as the main character and to have become more fully immersed in his story, but this wasn't the point of the story that Hollinghurst wanted to tell. A fabulous writer, Hollinghurst captures acutely the mood of the moment across the ages, from the necessary subtleness of gay flirtations in the war era to the 'out and proud' modern day London gay scene.

4 stars - a wonderful writer who will always be one of my favourites. ( )
1 vote AlisonY | Feb 22, 2019 |
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The evening when we first heard Sparsholt’s name seems the best place to start this little memoir.
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"From the internationally acclaimed winner of the Man Booker Prize, a masterly new novel that spans seven transformative decades in England--from the 1940s to the present--as it plumbs the richly complex relationships of a remarkable family. In 1940, David Sparsholt arrives at Oxford to study engineering, though his sights are set on joining the Royal Air Force. Handsome, athletic, charismatic, he is unaware of his effect on others--especially on Evert Dax, the lonely son of a celebrated novelist who is destined to become a writer himself. With the world at war, and the Blitz raging in London, Oxford nevertheless exists at a strange remove: a place of fleeting beauty--and secret liaisons. A friendship develops between these two young men that will have unexpected consequences as the novel unfolds. Alan Hollinghurst's new novel explores the legacy of David Sparsholt across three generations, on friends and family alike; we experience through its characters changes in taste, morality, and private life in a sequence of vividly rendered episodes: a Sparsholt holiday in Cornwall; eccentric social gatherings at the Dax family home; the adventures of David's son Johnny, a painter in 1970s London; the push and pull in a group of friends brought together by art, literature, and love. And evoking the increasing openness of gay life, The Sparsholt Affair becomes a meditation on human transience, even as it poignantly expresses the longing for permanence and continuity."--

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In 1940, Evert Dax and David Sparsholt, two young men from very different backgrounds, meet at Oxford University. Dax is a second year student reading English, coming from a rackety upper middle class background; Sparsholt is from a humbler Midlands community and is reading engineering, a young man whose good looks and fine figure have proved highly attractive to his peers.

This time is a unique one in the history of the university: with military call-up at twenty, soon brought forward to nineteen, almost all students come up to Oxford knowing that they will only have a year or so of study. A sense of futility is mixed with one of recklessness. All life after dusk is lived under black-out, encouraging and covering what would normally be impossible liaisons. What happens to these two men in this year will affect many lives and will set in motion the mystery at the heart of The Sparsholt Affair.

Alan Hollinghurst's masterly novel takes us through several generations and across key periods of uncertainty and change in British society. From the darkest days of the Second World War, it moves to the changing world of the a socially and sexually liberated London of the 1960s, before landing in the mid-1970s, with the three-day week, fuel shortages and power cuts. The reverberations continue through the next generation in the 1990s before reaching a conclusion in the present decade, a world of new media and new ideas.

Throughout the novel there is also an examination of the visual and aesthetic, looking at what it is to be Modern, through modernist architecture and abstract painting: we witness buildings being destroyed and replaced; we watch works of art go in and out of fashion.

Featuring a remarkable cast of characters, The Sparsholt Affair is both thought-provoking and highly entertaining, a novel in which children are connected by the acts of their parents and individuals are both damaged and saved by the changing attitudes to sexuality, privacy and intimacy. [Amazon.co.uk]
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