Genre: LGBT, Historical Fiction
Narrative Style: Third person from the point of view of one character
Synopsis: Nick Guest has just finished university and is lodging in the attic room of his friend, Toby Fedden’s family. Nick is in love with Toby but it is unrequited and likely to stay that way. Nick embarks on a love affair with a young black man, Leo. The novel is set in the eighties and describes the highs and lows of that decade through Nick’s various relationships.
Reading Challenges: 2020 Alphabet Soup Author Challenge.
I had mixed feelings about this book. In fact, I knew I probably would, having read Hollinghurt before. It was beautifully written. There is no doubt that Hollinghurst can turn a phrase or that he loves language but I felt it was an empty beauty. For a long time, nothing seemed to happen and Nick wasn’t really interesting enough to hang the entire narrative on his thoughts and feelings.
The other problem for me is that posh people are not that exciting. And Hollinghurst describes the luxuries of the age in great detail. Everybody is connected to somebody important, if they are not important themselves. There is a lot of description of antiques. There is a grotesqueness to all the money being lavished around and some of the characters do seem satirical e.g. Sir Maurice Tipper and Badger. They were very cleverly written but as a result fo the satirical intent seemed more like stereotypes.
Nick doesn’t really fit in the circles his attachment to the Feddens allow him to move in. He isn’t poor, by any stretch but he isn’t super rich either. In this respect, his observations are helpful to the reader, sometimes cynical, sometimes awestruck, he is always an outsider. He is portrayed as somewhat innocent even later on in the novel when he is procuring cocaine for his Lebanese millionaire lover. When everything comes crashing down around his head due to a particularly vicious tabloid story, he is thrown out of the Fedden’s home. He has naively believed that the family cared for him when their feelings for him were based on a version of himself that was not real. It was easy to feel sorry for him and to see the pain that such secrets cause.
There is also no denying that this is a clever novel. So much is hinted at or omitted from the narrative. Nick meets the parents of both his lovers although not as a lover but as a friend and Hollinghurst describes the agony of this successfully. At the end of the novel, we are left with Nick wondering what the results of his latest HIV test will be. He imagines the world carrying on without him in an incredibly poignant piece of writing Unfortunately, for me, these sorts of moments were few and far between.
Overall, I’m glad I read it and I enjoyed it more than The Folding Star. The prose was beautiful and it was clever and funny but ultimately fell short of the mark. It seemed like a triumph of style over substance. I understand that the many things that are unsaid are a metaphor for the secret keeping Nick has to perform on a daily basis but it made for an unsatisfying read.