cover image The Sparsholt Affair

The Sparsholt Affair

Alan Hollinghurst. Knopf, $28.95 (432p) ISBN 978-1-101-87456-1

A gay man’s search for love and artistic expression is at the center of Booker Prize–winner Hollinghurst’s masterful sixth novel, written in elegant, captivating prose. Here, he shines a clarifying light on the gay and art worlds (often synonymous) through decades of British cultural and political change. The story sweeps along in five interlinked sections, in which the characters move through different stages of their lives and their country’s history. Some of the characters are first observed at Oxford as they wait to be called up for military service during the tense early days of WWII. Stunningly handsome David Sparsholt draws the attention of a group of friends, literary aesthetes who observe him with interest and, in some cases, with lust. Two decades later, David is a war hero, married and the father of a son, Johnny, who will be central to the remainder of the novel. Readers gradually learn about the homosexual scandal that brought David national attention and a prison term in the ’60s. David would like to disown his past; Johnny is an uncloseted gay man in a changed society in which homosexuality is no longer a crime. In 1970s London, Johnny, beginning his career as a painter, enters the milieu of some of his father’s former Oxford friends. In the last section, set in the present day, Hollinghurst makes explicit reference to “time, loss and change,” and celebrates Johnny’s erotic passion and the emotional haven of domestic companionship. In this magnificent novel, Hollinghurst is at the height of his powers. (Mar.)