I’ve read 3 of Alan Hollinghurst’s novels, and I’ve been meaning to read the other two for a few years now. That time has come when I’m starting to riffle through all the books I’ve borrowed from my school library and want to start taking them back, so that’s been a motivator for me.
It’s not my favorite Hollinghurst by a long shot. If you’re going to read him, read The Line of Beauty. It’s deep and intricate and incredibly well-written, whereas The Folding Star feels…missing. Incomplete somehow, though it’s quite a long novel. How do I explain it?
The plot goes like this: Edward Manners is a mid-thirties romantic who is still living with his mother and not really getting ahead in life when he has the opportunity to go to Belgium and tutor high school students in English. He takes the chance and becomes enthralled by one of his pupils, Luc Altidore. And by enthralled, I mean obsessed. Like, Swimf@n obsessed. As in, he steals clothing items (like dirty underwear) and wears them. Even though Luc is 17 and kind of a boring, priggish kid and this dude is 34 and kind of boring and horny. In between, there’s this love-sick suitor named Cherif who looooves Edward, and this con man named Matt whom Edward has a quasi-affair with and runs a low-budget adult industry from his rented room. And there’s stuff about AIDS and elegy (which is where the folding star comes in) that are really quite beautifully written and should have taken a larger part in the plot development than the Luc obsession.
I think my biggest issues with the novel were in pacing, especially since the end packs a wallop and gallops along with breathtaking speed. I was also not a fan of the underage obsession, but that has more to do with the fact that I’m a teacher, and I do not approve of such shenanigans, no matter your sexual orientation or consent. It’s a major reason I still haven’t read Lolita; perhaps coming of age in the Mary Kay Letourneau scandal made me a pearl-clutcher in this area. I don’t know.
I will say, though, that Hollinghurst is worth reading, but maybe start with The Line of Beauty.