The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst

‘The Swimming Pool Library’ is a 1988 novel by Alan Hollinghurst, the famous author who won the Booker prize for ‘The Line of Beauty’.

Alan Hollinghurst is one of the most important authors of our times, he is the precursor of what we today know as the ‘gay novel’, one of the first people to portray the homosexual life in London, and the finest till now to have put the gay novel form in modern literature.

The novel is set in London, the year is 1983, and follows the life of William Beckwith — a seductive, charming, rich, flamboyant young man who keeps visiting clubs, loves swimming, is obsessed with sexual escapades, and is nothing but a common Casanova, that could be seen in real life dead drunk in the streets.

Alan Hollinghurst brings this man to life, his temptations and fantasies, his affections and morality, and the sense of breezy youth comes alive in this classic novel as he travels road to Road, club to club, shower room to shower room, for swimming, for exercise, socialising, drinking, relaxing and most importantly to satiate his sexual cravings.

One day, he saves the life of an elderly man, named Charles Byron Nantwich, an 83 year old homosexual aristocrat, who also loves swimming, and is a regular visitor to the club.

Impressed and attached to William, Charles provides William, his diaries, which he dedicatedly wrote throughout during different stages of his life, and it shifts from London to Sudan, and other remote areas of Africa, differences and descriptions of multi-cultured third world population, and evocative descriptions of the homosexual crises and struggle, and Charles tells him to write a book on it.

The novel takes the reader through the evocative descriptions of the streets, alleys, clubs, live pornographic studios, stripper clubs, gay clubs, and vivid descriptions of sexuality, which goes deeper into the lives, personalities, tastes, fantasies, and struggles of characters, the emotional scenery showcasing the larger political, social and historical crisis.

‘The Swimming Pool Library’ is an amazing title choice for the novel, it is poetic, lyrical, breezy, casually charming and wonderfully metaphorical, hinting at the flowing sexual escapades of characters, and especially the coming of age of William Beckwith, as he realises and awakens to the fact when he is planning his book, that Charles’ diary is not only a beautiful evidence of personal struggle but it is a haunting portrait of homosexual life in the world.

Contrary to the idea of the traditional gay novel, Alan Hollinghurst boldly picks up a protagonist, who is definitely not in any way striking, unique, or different, William Beckwith is a very rich vagabond , who loves sex and searches for physical comforts in his life, but Alan’s prose and style of writing is absolutely brilliant, it is like a breeze, gently flowing, evocatively describing common life, nothing too philosophical or fantastical or even tragic, and that is what makes this novel stand apart from the other tragic and melodramatic stories. Near the end, it is revealed what the novel means to show by its ordinary and beautiful setting, it paints a melancholic picture of the historical struggle, and the description of modern day London, is the best I have ever read in a novel.

‘The Swimming Pool Library’ is a novel that amazes the reader with its unique outlook for delicate and deep psychological insights, it turns out to be surprising and in the end, very moving.

‘One should keep the body if not the soul together’

-Alan Hollinghurst, The Swimming Pool Library

Leave a comment