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... Poets often mature earlier than novelists; behind the romantic image of young poetic genius lies a clearly identifiable pattern whereby all but the greatest poets write their best work before the age of forty; the novelistic genius, on the other hand, tends to ripen with experience – to accumulate slowly. D.M. Thomas was told at the age of 25 by his ex-tutor John Bayley that he would be a late developer ...

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 with folding, pressing into a shelled church for shelter, opening smoke-darkened wings of a Flemish triptych ...

Best Things

Alan Hollinghurst, 20 August 1981

Viewpoints: Poets in Conversation with John Haffenden 
Faber, 189 pp., £7.50, June 1981, 0 571 11689 2Show More
A Free Translation 
by Craig Raine.
Salamander, 29 pp., £4.50, June 1981, 0 907540 02 3
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A German Requiem 
by James Fenton.
Salamander, 9 pp., £1.50, January 1981, 0 907540 00 7
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Caviare at the Funeral 
by Louis Simpson.
Oxford, 89 pp., £4.50, April 1981, 0 19 211943 5
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... By and large we are interested in the thoughts, opinions and intentions of writers we are interested in, and by and large writers are keen to express these things in reviews, essays and memoirs subsidiary to their main work. A critic lurks, an implicit presence, in every creative writer, and though most of them are starved of a Boswell to transcribe and irradiate obiter dicta as facets of the creative life, they are none the less eager to shine their light on their own work ...

Biographical Materials

Alan Hollinghurst, 15 October 1981

Remembering Britten 
edited by Alan Blyth.
Hutchinson, 181 pp., £7.95, June 1981, 0 09 144950 2
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Britten and Auden in the Thirties: The Year 1936 
by Donald Mitchell.
Faber, 176 pp., £7.50, February 1981, 0 571 11715 5
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... Donald Mitchell recalls that Benjamin Britten had a low opinion of music critics in newspapers. Alan Blyth’s compilation Remembering Britten would have done little to make him change his mind: it is a book fundamentally misconceived and often grotesque in execution. The tributary volume of memoirs, such as the one Stephen Spender compiled after Auden’s death, has the value not only of illuminating its subject but of providing a complex shading of reaction and relation through the personalities of the contributors ...

Imperial Dope

Alan Hollinghurst, 4 June 1981

Creation 
by Gore Vidal.
Heinemann, 510 pp., £8.95, April 1981, 0 394 50015 6
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... Creation is a novel that describes, creates and analyses history, and it is not the first of Gore Vidal’s novels to do so. He has already devoted a lengthy trilogy to American history, and Julian, though set some eight hundred years later than Creation, shares the new novel’s concern with history both political and religious in the ancient world ...

Silence

Alan Hollinghurst, 17 September 1981

Shuttlecock 
by Graham Swift.
Allen Lane, 220 pp., £6.95, September 1981, 0 7139 1413 0
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The Frights 
by Nicholas Salaman.
Alison Press/Secker, 170 pp., £6.95, September 1981, 0 436 44085 7
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March House 
by Mary Hocking.
Chatto, 222 pp., £6.95, August 1981, 0 7011 2586 1
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The Missing Person 
by Doris Grumbach.
Hamish Hamilton, 252 pp., £7.95, August 1981, 0 241 10660 5
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... In his moving first novel The Sweet Shop Owner Graham Swift illuminated the history of one man through flashbacks on the last day of that man’s life. Through the succinctly evoked provincial decades one of the engrossing features was the difficulty of love and of communication between generations, even within a family – a problem which threatened, at a local level, the transmission of a sense of history or a justification of the past which Swift so perceptively re-created ...

Jean-Paul

Alan Hollinghurst, 19 November 1981

Gemini 
by Michel Tournier, translated by Anne Carter.
Collins, 452 pp., £8.95, September 1981, 0 00 221448 2
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The Death of Men 
by Allan Massie.
Bodley Head, 249 pp., £6.50, October 1981, 0 370 30339 3
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Tar Baby 
by Toni Morrison.
Chatto, 309 pp., £6.95, October 1981, 0 7011 2596 9
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... Michel Tournier’s Gemini was published in France six years ago under the title of Les Météores, but it arrives in this country, in Anne Carter’s convincing and sometimes virtuosic translation, with none of the trumpeting which announced his earlier triumphs, Friday and The Erl King. All his publishers have managed to come up with is an ambiguous commendation from Genet: ‘An exceptional, incomparable novel ...

Millom

Alan Hollinghurst, 18 February 1982

Sea to the West 
by Norman Nicholson.
Faber, 64 pp., £3, June 1981, 0 571 11729 5
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Out for the Elements 
by Andrew Waterman.
Carcanet, 151 pp., £3.95, October 1981, 0 85635 377 9
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Between Here and Now 
by R.S. Thomas.
Macmillan, 110 pp., £5.95, November 1981, 0 333 32186 3
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Poetry Introduction Five 
Faber, 121 pp., £5.25, January 1982, 0 571 11793 7Show More
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... 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 ...

Diary

Alan Hollinghurst: In Houston, 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 ...

Don’t Ask Henry

Alan Hollinghurst: Sissiness, 9 October 2008

Belchamber 
by Howard Sturgis.
NYRB, 345 pp., £8.99, May 2008, 978 1 59017 266 7
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... 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 ...

Poor Dear, How She Figures!

Alan Hollinghurst: Forster and His Mother, 3 January 2013

The Journals and Diaries of E.M. Forster Volumes I-III 
edited by Philip Gardner.
Pickering and Chatto, 813 pp., £275, February 2011, 978 1 84893 114 5
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... In 1929 E.M. Forster accompanied his close friend Florence Barger and her husband to a conference in South Africa, and kept a detailed journal of the two-month round trip. After the conference they left Pretoria to join a ship at the port of Beira in Mozambique: Levant at last – those trudging squares and triangles between houses that I remember from Port Said in 1912, a plank missing from the footbridge, natives grading into Portuguese without shame, a grilling sea-wall, its pavement burst up by the waves, houses built on white piles, with chickens ducks cookery and washing sharing the basement, a desolate and grilling public garden, and the sea full of floating brown pennies of oil ...

Lost Youth

Nicholson Baker, 9 June 1994

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

The Crotch Thing

James Wood: Alan Hollinghurst, 16 July 1998

The Spell 
by Alan Hollinghurst.
Chatto, 257 pp., £15.99, July 1998, 0 7011 6519 7
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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 Hollinghurst possesses great talents is certainly not in question. There is probably no novelist alive with such a deeply historical feeling for English poetic lyricism ...

The Rupert Trunk

Christopher Tayler: Alan Hollinghurst, 28 July 2011

The Stranger’s Child 
by Alan Hollinghurst.
Picador, 565 pp., £20, June 2011, 978 0 330 48324 7
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... if he hadn’t died at the age of 27, Brooke was, the letter leaves little doubt, a big show-off. Alan Hollinghurst has always had a soft spot for show-offs. In his first novel, The Swimming-Pool Library (1988), the narrator reads a review of a Shostakovich concert that he skipped to spend time with a newish boyfriend, who ‘would have been sitting on ...

Welly-Whanging

Thomas Jones: Alan Hollinghurst, 6 May 2004

The Line of Beauty 
by Alan Hollinghurst.
Picador, 501 pp., £16.99, April 2004, 9780330483209
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... takes a lively movement in making it with pen or pencil. Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty (1753) Alan Hollinghurst’s first novel, The Swimming Pool Library (1988), is set during the summer of 1983. The narrator, William Beckwith, is a young aristocrat of leisure. He lives in Holland Park, swims at the Corinthian Club, a gay gym on Great Russell Street ...

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