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Hollinghurst, Alan (b. 1954)  
 
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Similar pursuits drive the action of Hollinghurst's novel. Obsessed with Luc, Edward unintentionally inflicts pain upon Cherif, a charming and sexually obliging Algerian day laborer whom Edward meets in a gay bar and with whom he conducts a casual affair. In addition, Edward is surprised late in his stay by fifty-year-old Paul Echevin's tactful admission of an attraction to him, ironically reversing the situation of Edward's pursuit of the teenaged Luc and making Edward the uncomfortable object of an older man's attention.

Other chains of unrequited desire abound. Edward spends a good part of the novel trying to decipher the nature of Luc's relationships with two omnipresent school friends, Sibylle and Patrick. As Patrick later explains, Sibylle, who was once in love with Patrick, can now think only of Luc. Luc, however, is love with Patrick himself, who--while having experimented sexually with Luc years before and continuing to value Luc as a friend--declares himself uninterested sexually in other men. "I felt I'd have had to be Racine to keep abreast of this convulsive trio, their switches of allegiance that seemed compacted in retrospect into little more than a day," Edward laments.

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The vanity of Patrick's exposition is exposed, however, when a bartender inadvertently reveals to Edward in the last pages of the novel that Luc--apparently unbeknownst to either of his friends--had grown obsessed in recent weeks with Matt, a charismatic but conscienceless amateur pornographer with whom Edward himself has been involved both sexually and commercially, and who had tired quickly of the boy. This chain of unrequited passions is further complicated by the fact that Sibylle herself is shyly worshipped by Marcel, the sickly son of Edward's own admirer, Orst curator Paul Echevin.

Where Hollinghurst departs from Proust, Racine, et al. is in his representation of erotic debasement. Von Aschenbach may render himself ridiculous by coloring his hair and applying rouge in order to make himself more attractive to the oblivious Tadzio, but he does not pilfer the boy's soiled linen, as Edward does.

And Hollinghurst dares to make an essential part of the novel Edward's explicit fantasies in which he seduces or sexually humiliates the handsome boy. Edward's fantasies of control are undercut when a bartender's casual comment reveals that Luc is not the innocent whose sentimental and sexual education Edward has hoped to conduct, but a hormonally overcharged, emotionally unstable teenager responsive to the allure of the louche Matt, and possibly even capable of offering himself to a group of sailors.

"You could have a great romance in here," Edward's friend Edie says upon visiting his apartment. By juxtaposing Edward's passion for Luc with Orst's for Jane Byron, the model whose beauty Orst rendered so enigmatically in painting after painting, Hollinghurst calls into question not simply whether a post-Stonewall gay man is capable of Orst's seemingly ennobling love, but the truth of the nineteenth-century ideal of the "grand passion" as well. Edward is delighted by fact that Luc's name is "cul" (which is French for "asshole") spelled backwards, indicating the site of Edward's desire. But the parallel story of Orst's obsession with Jane reveals a similar anal eroticism when Paul shares with Edward an uncatalogued cache of photographs that Orst had made of a Jane-look-alike defecating.

In the novel, thus, Hollinghurst suggests that like the unwary customers whose fantasies Matt cynically and dishonestly fulfills, all lovers will themselves into believing of the beloved what the lover's fantasies require be true. But however one ennobles one's feelings for another person, love is always founded upon what the Symbolist poets celebrate as "la nostalgie de la boue"--that is, a fond affection for what belongs in the gutter.

The Folding Star--with an epigraph by Symbolist poet Henri de Régnier, its subplot concerning a fictionalized Symbolist painter, and its celebration of the damp, autumnal atmosphere favored by the Symbolist poets--functions as an extended Symbolist poem in prose. (Indeed, Luc's alleged adventure with the sailors echoes the young Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud's supposed rape by a train car of soldiers.)

The love object is invariably a symbol, Hollinghurst reveals, not an actual person. Just as the teenaged Paul was dismayed to discover that his first lover was a fascist soldier who eventually betrayed to his superiors the whereabouts of Orst, so Orst was obsessed with a woman who either mysteriously drowned or faked her disappearance to escape his obsessive attention. One loves, not the reality of a person, but the mystery that he or she represents.

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