The Sparsholt Affair
by Alan Hollinghurst
Alfred A. Knopf. 432 pages, $28.95
ALAN HOLLINGHURST’S novels are unusual for a few reasons. First, no two are alike. From The Swimming Pool Library (1988) to his new book, The Sparsholt Affair—with The Folding Star (1994) and The Stranger’s Child (2011) in between—each has its own ambience, tone, subject, and structure. Second, Hollinghurst doesn’t seem to be in any kind of dialogue with gay novels written in the U.S. or, for that matter, in the U.K. His subjects and topics simply differ too much from those of, say, Adam Mars-Jones or Patrick Gale to invite comparison.
The Sparsholt Affair could be said to resemble his second novel, The Folding Star, in being about artists, both real and fictional. The new book can be said to be about the effect of World War II on English society, for good and ill, just as The Stranger’s Child was about the effects of World War I. Like the latter, The Sparsholt Affairis a family novel, even odder than its predecessor because it’s about a family whose main characters are all gay.