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The Swimming-Pool Library Paperback – Feb 3 1998

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books (Feb. 3 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099268132
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099268130
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 240 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #374,866 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

On entering a London public lavatory in blithe pursuit of quick, anonymous sex, beautiful and roguish young aristocrat William Beckwith isconfronted instead with an ancient, doddering member of the British House of Lords who, after muttering an incoherent string of polite non sequiturs, promptly keels over at his feet in embarrassed but undeniable coronary arrest. After saving the old man's life, Will is invited to tea by the grateful and slightly senile Lord Nantwich, who, surprised by Will's impressive lineage and appalled at his state of idle unemployment, engages the young man to write the Nantwich life story. Thus begins the unusual relationship that forms the core of this funny, sad and beautifully written novel. The Swimming Pool Library weaves a rich and fascinating tapestry of Britain's gay subculture spanning pre-World War I through the sexually abandoned early '80s, stopping short at the doorstep of AIDS. Hollinghurst's prose is fresh, witty and wise, and his ever-surprising, sinuously unfurling story is told with insouciant grace and unabashed sexuality. BOMC and QPBC alternates. (September) .
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

This novel created quite a stir in Britain and will probably do so herefor it minces no words in providing a realistic glimpse of the gay lifestyle in pre-AIDS London. Yet the approach is much more "literary" than sensational, the author masterfully re-creating a sense of time and place and the social and cultural milieu in which gay men operated. The occasionally graphic descriptions of sex will likely upset some readers, but for most the aura of unselfconscious eroticism will provide a sense of authenticity that only adds to its impact. Still, this is not a nostalgia piece; the author clearly understands that the freedom to satisfy lust often interferes with the ability to find fulfillment and love. Perceptive and well written; belongs in most academic and public libraries. David W. Henderson, Eckered Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 56 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Disturbingly Erotic Oct. 26 2002
By D. Movahedpour - Published on
Format: Paperback
This novel is well-written, and vacillates between extremely well-written fiction and minutely detailed erotica. The story centers around Will, a promiscuous, narcisscistic, wealthy gay young Londoner in the pre-AIDS era of the early 1980's. Will has no financial or moral restrictions. He leads us on a journey through the hot summer of 1983, that is at times graphic, and also historically engrossing.
Will Beckwith's adventures are by far some of the most graphically-detailed I have ever read, but highly erotic for both gay and straight readers. Concurrently, Will encounters an elderly British Lord who wants Will to write his life story. There is an undercurrent of duplicity in all of his relationships, from his passionate, physical affair with the young, uneducated hotel employee, Phil, to the exact nature of his professional dealings with his Lordship. Also, there is a pitying tone to his relationship with his best friend, a doctor who is also gay, but who is the only person who seems to have Will's heart, instead of his libido.
This is not your ordinary novel. Alan Hollinghurst is an extremely intelligent writer, who can also write with an almost animalistic sense of depravity. It is almost like reading two novels; on one page, extremely explicit sex, on another, intellectual stimulation. It is certainly one of the most unique books of its kind I have ever read.
38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
One of the most intelligent gay novels in years July 8 2002
By Jay Dickson - Published on
Format: Paperback
Alan Hollinghurst may be the most intelligent gay English-language novelist writing today, with the possible exceptions of Edmund White and Gore Vidal, but Hollinghurst is neither so precious as White nor so nutty as Vidal. THE SWIMMING-POOL LIBRARY was his first effort, and remains his best. It marvelously captures the life enjoyed by a wealthy, handsome, leisured, and predatory London aristocrat, William Beckwith, in the early Eighties, and the way his life changes when he meets Chalres Beckwith, a titled man whom Beckwith incorrectly assumes lived a life very similar to his own. The novel is basically about the absence of gay history at the time it was written, and the ways in which privilege and security can be taken for granted. The book read very differently in 1988 (at the darkest moments of the AIDS crisis) than it does today, and its message seems less elegiac in many ways than before. It's not a novel without its problems: although Beckwith is clearly intended to be understood as morally blinkered (and he does get a something of a comeuppance eventually), his incessant vanity and self-congratulation does make him eventually a bit of a bore as first-person narrators go. Hollinghurst also witholds crucial information about the plot until the very last fifty pages of the novel, as he did in his next effort THE FOLDING STAR, so that you're not even fully aware of what the mystery guiding the novel's action really is until fairly late in the game. While this makes the final revelation more of a surprise, the book reads much better the second time than the first, when (as again with THE FOLDING STAR) there seems to be little plot to sustain your interest. Most readers have found Hollinghrust's third book, THE SPELL, the weakest of his efforts so far: it will be interesting to see if he can either repeat or surmount the success of THE SWIMMING-POOL LIBRARY.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Unique, hybrid: high tone literature with sizzling erotics March 7 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
I recently re-read this book. It is a unique amalgam of very serious, high tone fiction and highly graphic, unadulterated scenes involving the kind of sexuality that would not make it into books that school systems adopt for even advanced high school courses. The narrator is rather selfish, aristocratic, but also appealing, in that, he makes no excuses for his human failings. At times, the depiction of gay haunts and habits is highly satirical, for example, the repeated references to "Trouble for Men," a cologne which wafts through the changing room of the swimming pool club that the narrator frequents [perhaps a dig at the extreme popularity which the Calvin Klein fragrance "Obsession" once had.] There is a two-tier structure to the work that is a little bit hard to deal with: the modern protagonist is contrasted with a man from an older era, whose life in earlier decades, when gay men were more in the shadows is meant to provide a counterpoint to the relative freedom which the younger man enjoys. This book is a rich, complex work which repays close reading and rereading.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Good Read Jan. 19 2009
By Marco Polo "Bruce" - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm enjoying reading this book again and again. I find that strange.

I am a retired Foreign Service officer who spent most of his adult life processing visa applications in overseas countries. Part of this book is about being an overseas diplomat (from England, though, not the USA) and that appealed to me.

But I bought the book completely for its title: "The Swimming Pool Library." I swam in college, way back in the 1960s, and almost made it to the Olympic Trials. And I like books, so the title, "Swimming Pool Library" appealed to me. I'm retired and I was looking for books to fill my library and fill my time.

I didn't know it would be about the homosexual lifestyle, and indeed as a straight man with grown children and grandchildren, I didn't have any appeal for that subject.

But the book has grabbed a hold of me and I've read it three and a half times in the past two months. I guess retirement does something to the human mind...At any rate, it's good writing and the main character gets into some interesting predicaments and I liked the other parts of the book - the diaries from being a British diplomat in Africa - and the gay thing just has me feeling and thinking things I never felt or thought about before, at least not consciously that I know of.

My wife keeps looking at me reading this on the porch but I don't care; if she wants to pick it up and read it herself maybe it would open up some dialog that we should have had decades ago.

I love my wife and my children and grandchildren, and I love this book.

Buy it. You'll be presently surprised.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Masterful Writing Nov. 1 2004
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the first "gay genre" book I've read. I bought it because the author just won the 2004 Booker Prize. Alan Hollinghurst writes beautifully. His prose has a certain limpid clarity accomplished the very best English authors. Its form is that of a narrative memoir, and contains within it, in part, diary entries by one of the main characters. In all, The Swimming Pool Library has more of the overall "feel" of a diary than a work of fiction. Hollinghurst's attention to detail is superb; his descriptions of the physical aspects of people, landscapes, and architecture are superb, and his evocation on London night life has a real feeling of authenticity. Strange to say, for a gay man Hollinghurst seems to take a surprisingly dispassionate approach to romance in this book. The author is quite spare in entering into the psychology of his characters in toto, which, in a sense, is appropriate, since the human heart -both our own and others'- remains, for the most part, a delicious and maddening mystery. The only reason why I did not give this five stars is that the last ten percent of the book seems to become a bit befuddled in its plotting, and what resolutions there are appear to be a bit rushed, and not altogether as tightly planned as the previous 90%. In the end, The Swimming Pool Library just seems to peter out, and whatever insight into his characters Hollinghurst had earlier in the book seems to get a little lost. Also, for me, the total lack of female characters made The Swimming Pool Library feel more than a bit claustrophobia-inducing. However, the very best fiction leaves one with a deeper appreciation of the changes and chances of one's own life, and the lives of other people. Hollinghurst beautifully achieves this for the greater part of this book, but loses it at the very end. Unless, of course, there is a "to be continued..." that I missed.