Alan Hollinghurst

Alan Hollinghurst’s books include The Line of Beauty.

Forster was an only child whose father died when he was one, and he was raised by his mother in an atmosphere thick with aunts. It’s a milieu he turns to his advantage in his fiction, where the middle-class female world is observed with a tone that Cyril Connolly described as ‘demure malice’. Such a resource wasn’t available for his day to day dealings with Lily Forster, a figure whose presence permeates these volumes long after she is dead. When he rapidly made a name for himself as a writer Lily seemed underwhelmed. ‘Mother bored by my literary successes,’ he notes after Howards End was published in 1910.

Don’t Ask Henry: Sissiness

Alan Hollinghurst, 9 October 2008

The story of Belchamber’s publication is probably better known than the book itself, which, like its author, has suffered the ambiguous fate of becoming an accessory to the life of a more important writer. It is his friend Henry James who keeps Sturgis’s novel distantly in view, at the same time as casting a long shadow over it. James read it in proof, and wrote a characteristic sequence of letters to Sturgis about it, beginning with neat praise and mild demurrals, but quickly building up to such fundamental criticisms of the book that the demoralised author said he would withdraw it altogether; at which James protested and pleaded, successfully though not with any retraction of the criticisms he had made.

Diary: In Houston

Alan Hollinghurst, 18 March 1999

When I tell people that I’m working in Houston for four months, those who’ve been there say: ‘My God! The drive from the airport!’ They mean the drive from George Bush Intercontinental Airport, down Interstate 45 or 59. It’s a ten or 12-lane highway, flanked by teeming feeder roads, and you career along it to the gathering rhythm of power pylons, used car lots, motels, the cacophony of billboards selling burgers, judges, vasectomy reversal, everything exposed and unashamed, the great aesthetic shock of America in all its barbarity and convenience. After twenty minutes or so, the famous downtown towers of Houston appear in a distant silhouette across the utterly flat and uncharming landscape. The freeway traffic hurtles towards them with daunting confidence, and before long you are right up beside those thousand-foot-high buildings, looking among them from the circling elevation of the road as the chasms of the streets flicker past. They have an extraordinary presence, the glamorous giants of the Seventies and Eighties half-obliterating surviving brick-clad structures that were giants in their day, and spelling out the fiercely Darwinian message of this boom city. Then they are behind you, and you get a confused hint of the rest of the place, which looks to a British eye like an endlessly extended suburb. Houston is now the fourth largest city in the United States, but it is hard to imagine when you arrive that you could ever come to like it, much less, as I think I did, to love it.‘

Poem: ‘Mud’

Alan Hollinghurst, 21 October 1982

November was always mud. Crossing a ploughed field our feet grew footballs of clay; matted with leaves its crust dropped on bootroom floors. Its odour was sharp and cold as a rocket’s nitre, cold as gardeners’ hands daubing the hot tap.

Grandfather’s eastward view was mud, deepening and retentive. His fingers were never free of it, holding letters broken at their creases...

Millom

Alan Hollinghurst, 18 February 1982

There was a time when local or regional poetry was greeted and respected as a romantic phenomenon: its origins far from the literary vortex of the metropolis were the guarantee of authenticity, bardic purity of inspiration, and a closer access to the nature as well as the language of men. Even now, there is something disconcerting about the rural adage, as if beneath its apparent irrelevance or banality some potency or spell resided, choosing simplicity itself as a disguise.

Tied to the Mast: Alan Hollinghurst

Adam Mars-Jones, 19 October 2017

Alan Hollinghurst​’s tally as a published novelist is six books over 29 years, so that’s more than two thousand pages of astonishing responsiveness to light, sound, painting, the...

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The Rupert Trunk: Alan Hollinghurst

Christopher Tayler, 28 July 2011

Henry James met Rupert Brooke on a visit to Cambridge in June 1909, having been invited there by some young admirers who made him feel, he wrote in a letter, ‘rather like an unnatural...

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Welly-Whanging: Alan Hollinghurst

Thomas Jones, 6 May 2004

It is to be observed, that straight lines vary only in length, and therefore are least ornamental. That curved lines as they can be varied in their degrees of curvature as well as in their...

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Alan Hollinghurst’s new novel is a spoiled gift which, as an ugly baby makes us search for deficiencies in its attractive parents, forces us to reconsider its creator’s talents. That...

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Lost Youth

Nicholson Baker, 9 June 1994

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...

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Catch 28

John Lanchester, 3 March 1988

Writing about sex tends to go wrong in one of two related ways. The first is through embarrassment or over-excitement on the part of the author: overly rhapsodic descriptions of sex, in...

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