Thursday, December 23, 2004

Narthex

There's an amazing piece by Colm Toibin in the latest New York Review of Books, about Hollinghurst and The Line of Beauty. I think very, very highly of Hollinghurst, and I read this essay practically jumping out of my seat. Toibin says many things that I have thought about AH's fiction but in far more lovely phrasing than would ever have occurred to me in a million years. Witness the following: "His description of the great attraction of the underparts and overparts of many men plays fearlessly against his copious use of adjectives and sub-clauses and, indeed, words normally found in the outer reaches of the dictionary." Or this: "Hollinghurst writes in The Spell with rare tenderness and accuracy about the effect of the drug ecstasy on a man approaching middle age, but he reserves his real energy for the maintenance of a rich, low-key comedy without ever descending into farce. His novel is, however, precisely the type of English book which young novelists and many critics in the 1970s deplored, where adultery and drinks parties and mild sexual disruptions become the dramatic center. As England burned, so to speak, the English novel slowly smoldered. For novelists such as Salman Rushdie and James Kelman, such complacency was a godsend, dry kindling waiting for a conflagration. While The Spell is perfect in its way, a novelist as intelligent as Hollinghurst could not have had any desire to repeat the exercise."

Everybody who really cares about what you can do with the novel these days should read Hollinghurst seriously. This piece shows just why this is the case. What it really makes me ashamed of is that I've never read any of Toibin's fiction! I must remedy this at once (once, that is, I have written the wretched paper about Lord Monboddo that I must deliver at the penitential affair known as the MLA, the massive conference in literary studies which takes place every year between Christmas and New Year's).

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