Tied to the Mast

Adam Mars-Jones

  • The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst
    Picador, 454 pp, £20.00, October 2017, ISBN 978 1 4472 0821 1

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 past, social nuance, music, sensation both sexual and otherwise, buildings inside and out, the inner life of sentences – this is only the beginning of a list. He is saturated in the literary past but unhindered by it, able to adapt a 19th-century manner to subjects the past could not accommodate; he’s hardly unaware of the siren voices of modernism but remains safely tied to the mast. It’s likely that Hollinghurst has encouraged more aspiring novelists than anyone else currently writing to give up, putting them in the position of the narrator of Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser, who hears Glenn Gould play and realises that although he is gifted enough as a performer to attend the same piano masterclass in Salzburg, there is simply no point in making any more efforts in that line. He gives away his Steinway the next day.

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