The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst
You know how travelling forces you to make decisions about books? I had a terrible dilemma this last week. I’d been steadily reading and enjoying Alan Hollinghurst’s newest novel, The Sparsholt Affair, when we were packing to leave for Florida for four days. I had twenty pages left as of an hour before our Lyft picked us up. And I had to leave the book behind. It was agony. Thankfully, I got to finish it when we returned home on Friday. And what a worthwhile wait it ended up being.
The novel begins in the 1940s. Evert Dax, Freddie Green, and Peter Coyle are among a group of friends who notice that newcomer David Sparsholt makes quite a stir in their Oxford community. Both Evert and Peter are obsessed with David, and thus begins a brief encounter that changes their future for generations to come. The novel spans about 60 or more years and shows the ripple effects of the relationships the group develop as young adults and the impact on their children and grandchildren. I’m deliberately being vague, because this is a novel that is best discovered by unfolding the plot slowly.
Hollinghurst is an elegant writer, and The Sparsholt Affair is no exception. The title itself alludes to several wordplays, and it’s up to us to figure out what these are. He writes well about gay identity, and this book adds many facets to it, especially updated for the 21st century, when it is no longer a crime to openly identify as gay. He also does not return to the well of the AIDS crisis, but instead looks at other components of gay life in the UK and the tensions of political and cultural values. I really liked this book a lot, and I think it’s one of Hollinghurst’s finest.