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The Swimming-Pool Library (1988)

by Alan Hollinghurst

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2,021358,104 (3.67)118
This novel centres on the friendship of William Beckwith, a young gay aristocrat who leads a life of privilege and promiscuity, and the elderly Lord Nantwich, who is searching for someone to write his biography.
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    While England Sleeps by David Leavitt (Anonymous user)
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» See also 118 mentions

English (32)  Dutch (2)  Finnish (1)  All languages (35)
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
I don't know how to rate this. Until about fifty pages from the end, I sort of had a cohesive idea of it; it frustrated me somewhat and occasionally bored me, but I felt like I could talk about it: the writing, the sort of intergenerational fetishization of black men, the way that I kind of wish any other character in this were the protagonist...
Now I'm much more aggravated but also much more interested in it. It's beautiful and totally unresolved in the kind of way that reminds me somewhat of My Fair Lady. ( )
  localgayangel | Mar 5, 2024 |
I really wanted to like this book. It's about a hypersexualized handsome haughty Brit who prances about London's upper crust hunting for young prey in the Clubs and gymnasiums and public parks. The writing's honest about the depravities, the elitism, the frivolousness of his life -- and, above all, the gay sex. And that was what I loved about this book: It is an honestly-told awful life, and so much fun to read. As social criticism, it was superb. But there came a point in the book when the main plotline started to loom larger and larger on the horizon, and the old man's diary started to be excerpted in larger and larger word-counts, and the midnight instinct to fall asleep rather than vigorously read starts to weigh larger and larger on the eyelids, when I decided to call it quits. This book is hereby abandoned, but not because it was awful inasmuch as it was starting to go a different direction than I wanted it to, and I have better things to read. ( )
  Gadi_Cohen | Sep 22, 2021 |
Set in London in 1983, The Swimming-Pool Library centres the promiscuous lifestyle of homosexual Will Beckwith, an aristocratic young man, who spends his days idling and picking up other gay men. When, one day,he saves the life of Charles Nantwich, an octogenarian peer, a friendship develops. When he was much younger Lord Nantwich served in the foreign service in Africa and he gives Will his old diaries in the hope that he will write his biography.

As Will reads through the diaries we discover that, despite the 60 year age difference, there are many parallels between the lives of the two men. Both come from privileged backgrounds, led self-indulgent lifestyles spent pursuing young men for casual sex with both showing a preference for black men. However, whilst Nantwich was forced to conceal his sexual preferences Will lives in a society that not only tolerates homosexuality but also one that must conceal any prejudices it may still retain.

The similarity of the two characters’ youth can certainly be read as a comment on the ruling class where a colonial sense of entitlement especially towards ethnic minorities, even if inadvertent, means that changes to habits and attitudes are slow to materialise.

Extracts from Lord Nantwich’s diary, with its depictions of repressed homosexuality, breaks up the main narrative which is liberally peppered with graphic sex scenes. Yet a sense of loneliness pervades the book, many of the characters live solitary existences, interspersed by wild, but ultimately meaningless sexual encounters.

There is undoubtedly a certain elegance to the prose but overall the plot felt meandering and aimless. Will seems incapable of questioning let alone altering his lifestyle no matter what befalls him. In truth, the novel felt over-sexed to the point of tedium and the sexual interludes seem to serve no purpose other than to show the increasingly liberal attitudes of both the reading public and society in general has become. Although admittedly this may be because today we are armed with the knowledge of the AIDS epidemic that occurred only a few years after this book was set. The book is populated almost exclusively by promiscuous homosexual men meaning that overall this felt like a celebration of a gay sub-culture, but little more. On more than one occasion I was tempted to throw in the towel and give up but persevered in the hope that it would come to some conclusion only to be ultimately left sadly disappointed. ( )
1 vote PilgrimJess | Apr 18, 2021 |
I'm quitting this. It's well written, but, having put it down to read something else, I feel no inclination to pick it up again. The first sentence of the Goodreads blurb says it all.
  pgchuis | Sep 28, 2019 |
When you know nothing about a book but pick it up because it has the word "library in the title...

(Ok, so I'm slowly working my way through the 1001 books to read before you die and I would have gotten around to it sooner or later, but still...)

Very well written. But ultimately not at all my cup of tea. ( )
  Sammystarbuck | Sep 2, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
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'She reads at such a pace,' she complained, 'and when I asked her where she had learnt to read so quickly, she replied, "On the screen at Cinemas."'
The Flower Beneath the Foot
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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
For Nicholas Clark
1959-1984
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I came home on the last train.
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This novel centres on the friendship of William Beckwith, a young gay aristocrat who leads a life of privilege and promiscuity, and the elderly Lord Nantwich, who is searching for someone to write his biography.

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Alan Hollinghurst's first novel is a tour de force: a darkly erotic work that centres on the friendship of William Beckwith, a young gay aristocrat who leads a life of privilege and promiscuity, and the elderly Lord Nantwich, who is searching for someone to write his biography
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