Lost Youth

Nicholson Baker

  • The Folding Star by Alan Hollinghurst
    Chatto, 422 pp, £15.99, May 1994, ISBN 0 7011 5913 8

Alan Hollinghurst is better at bees than Oscar Wilde. On the opening page of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde has them ‘shouldering their way through the long un-mown grass’. A bee must never be allowed to ‘shoulder’. Later that afternoon, Dorian Gray, alarmed by Lord Henry Wotton’s graphic talk of youth’s inevitable degeneration, drops a lilac blossom that he has been ‘feverishly’ sniffing. Bee numero due appears, taking most of a paragraph to ‘scramble all over the stellated globe of the tiny blossoms’ and further interrogate the ‘stained trumpet of a Tyrian convolvulus’. Here again, when you’re talking about bee-legs and their prehensile dealings with plant tissue, ‘scramble’ doesn’t quite do the trick.

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