I was reassured by the fact that this book landed on the Carmen Callil and Colm Toibin Modern Library list of Best Novels in English from 1950-1998. To see the complete list click on the link: http://www.listsofbests.com/list/27388-callil-and-toibin-the-modern-library-200-best-novels-in-english-since-1950
It is an unusual list. There are a lot of books on the list that I hadn't read and more than I thought possible that I haven't even heard of. To say the least it is an intriguing list. I really enjoyed Colm Toibin's novel about Henry James called The Master and so I have been excited about digging into some of the authors on the list that I've never read before.
Alan Hollinghurst is a talented writer, lyrical, accomplished, and I hope capable of more than this book. Ultimately the problem I had with the book is that I never felt any connection with Edward Manners. In fact I barely knew much about him except that he was obsessed with sex, obsessed with himself, and about as shallow as a puddle of water on a concrete walkway. In the first part of the book Edward is consumed with this unrealistic passion for this seemingly unattainable 17 year old student named Luc. Between moments of anxiety about the object of his attraction he has several meaningless bouts of sex with men he has met under dodgy circumstances. I obtained some hope during the second part when Hollinghurst introduces the death of Edward's friend Ralph (Dawn)and he gives me more background on Edward and his life before he became a tutor. I have a glimmer of a person who once enjoyed poetry and wrote poetry before he became a man preoccupied with his next sexual encounter and little else. I believe that Hollinghurst was trying to present Edward as a tragic figure, but to accomplish this I would need to feel some sympathy for the character. Unfortunately I never mustered up enough interest in the character to ever feel any sympathy. In fact as the novel progresses I kept thinking Edward deserves much worse to happen to him.
Edward does have sex with Luc though not in the slow, seductive, romantic way he had daydreamed about through out the novel. Luc seduces him and afterwards Edward is confused as to how he actually feels about obtaining the object of his obsession.
"I tiptoed out for a drink of water and came back gulping from the glass like a child. I thought he might have vanished, it seemed foolish to let him out of my sight; but there he was, a goldish blur. I half-stumbled on his clothes, and crouched to rifle them-but what did they matter the boy himself was here? I found every fear answered and calmed by that luminous fact. He was lying in my bed, naked, sleeping-flat out. It was a triumph. Tears slipped down my face, I didn't really know why-it felt like gratitude, but also they were the tears that register some deep displacement, a bereavement sending up its sudden choking wave. It struck me I must be mourning everything that came before-it was the desolate undertow of success."
Okay, Hollinghurst can write, no doubt and even though I didn't particularly like this novel it certainly will not keep me from reading more books by him in the future. I think Hollinghurst wanted to write a novel about obsession and certainly did, but with 412 pages I felt he could have done much more. The slender, well conceived, well written landmark of literature, Lolita would have been a better framework for success.
On a quest to find Luc, Edward is riding in a car with Marcel, a friend of Luc and Marcel is excited. To him this is a grand adventure.
"Marcel was restless, eager, whisked away from his lessons on a quest for his beautiful and scandalous senior. He was pink faced at the privilege of it and chattered solemnly until my nervous silence, my curt demands for help with road-signs and turnings, affected him too, rather as a parent's misery seeps into a child and subdues it."
As a parent currently raising two teenagers that line hit me RIGHT BETWEEN THE EYES. I know as I grow older, like most people, I am getting grumpier, less patient, more aware of my failings (insecurities) and feeling the weight of accumulated baggage from my interactions with colleagues and the human race at large. I do not want to lay any of that on the shoulders of my kids at any age certainly not now. Their exuberance and immaturity can be annoying and I know I have been guilty of throwing water on their youthful flames. The importance of reading is that even in a book I didn't appreciate as much as I expected I found a concept that left me musing about my own life and the impact that I want to have on the growth of my children.
I am afraid that if someone asks me about this book in two years I'll probably be thinking did I really read that book? Despite some good writing this is ultimately a forgettable book.