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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Sparsholt Affair (2017) by Alan Hollinghurst

Book Review
The Sparsholt Affair (2017)
by Alan Hollinghurst

   The longlist for the Man Booker Prize 2018 was announced yesterday.  Thirteen books on the longlist, and three Americans in that group: Rachel Kushner, for The Mars Room, her California women's prison book, Richard Powers for his tree-hugging saga The Overstory and artist/author Nick Drnaso, who has received the first ever Booker Prize nomination for a graphic novel, Sabrina.  Of the other nominees, only two are not from the UK/Ireland, no nominees from Australia, New Zealand, Africa or South Asia, which strikes me as highly unusual.  The two non UK/'Ireland authors are both Canadians.

  The only prior winner is Michael Ondaatje, for Warlight.  Ondaatje also recently won the so-called Booker of Bookers for The English Patient- besting Rushdie and Midnight's Children, which had won a similar Best of Booker Prize Booker Prize a few years back.  Absent from the longlist was this book by prior winner Alan Hollinghurst, for The Line of Beauty in 2004.  His first nomination for the Booker was in 1994 for The Folding Star

  Like his other books, The Sparsholt Affair is a closely observed book- with a historical first act taking place at Oxford University during the early 1960's, homosexuality still being a criminal offense.  Also like his other books, The Sparsholt Affair is about the experience of being a gay, English, man, both before and after homosexuality was decriminalized in the mid 1960's.  The Oxford setting is deeply reminiscent of late early 20th century writers like Eveyln Waugh.  Hollinghurst is nothing is not a (the?) preeminent prose stylist writing in English today, and the reader expects beautiful language on every page.

  When I read of the American publication of The Sparsholt Affair earlier this year (after a fall 2017 release in the UK, where Hollinghurst is a much bigger deal), it seemed like the ideal candidate for a good Audiobook edition.  Of course, the publisher would want to do right by such a beautiful writer, and of course, The Sparsholt Affair sounds great.  However, at over 400 pages in print, the listening time is over 10 hours.  The sheer density of observation made portions of The Sparsholt Affair more curious than beautiful.

  I had presumed that this book would be a lock for at least the Booker longlist, especially in a year with so many nominees from England and the greater UK area. It is almost shocking.

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