From the winner of the Man Booker Prize, a multi-generational portrait of gay life that plumbs the complex relationships of a remarkable family and the effect a highly public midcentury scandal has on their legacy.
...the immense assurance of the writing, the deep knowledge of the settings and periods in which the story unfolds, the mingling of cruel humour and lyrical tenderness, the insatiable interest in human desire from its most refined to its most brutally carnal, grip you as tightly as any thriller ... It’s a wonderful structural device, this layering of similar situations on top of each other like a series of transparencies that cumulatively portray a culture as it exists in time as well as in space ... An amazing amount of the passion and folly of the human comedy is woven into his modest life, all of it beautifully observed and memorably articulated. It makes for a looser, freer book than the cunning puzzle of a novel one was led to expect, and almost certainly a better one, too.
Hollinghurst's sixth novel is epic, elegant, and intricately constructed ... As we've come to expect from the Booker-winning author of The Line of Beauty, Hollinghurst builds an intricate web of relationships with stately Jamesian precision and nuance. The Sparsholt Affair is filled with what Johnny, describing some Whistler paintings, calls 'small miracles of observation' ... Hollinghurst, who has tread the line between satire and sentiment in all his novels, understands that the truth lies somewhere in between, and knows how tricky it can be to find the right balance. In The Sparsholt Affair, he has tilted toward the heartfelt, to moving effect.
Hollinghurst wonderfully conveys the subtle, charged atmosphere of ordinary life rumbling along under extraordinary circumstances ... we don’t really find out what David Sparsholt has to say about his gay son, or what the son has to say about his father. It is almost as if Hollinghurst, sympathetic to Johnny’s introverted awkwardness and wanting him to flourish on his own terms, believes the question to be impolite. As David and his cohort recede from view, Johnny becomes the novel’s protagonist, though he has the provisional feel of a secondary character nudged from the wings into the spotlight ... Hollinghurst has further handicapped himself by limiting Johnny’s ability with words. He is dyslexic, and not much of a talker, though in place of verbal gifts he has visual ones ... considering the effects of the past is not just the responsibility of a novel about eight decades of gay history; it is the responsibility of a novel about family, and the disappointment of The Sparsholt Affair is that Hollinghurst lets Johnny slip the knot of his father’s life with barely a second thought, escaping easily into the safety of his own.