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Hollinghurst, Alan (b. 1954)  
 
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Alan Hollinghurst has been as warmly celebrated for his elegant prose style and subtle representations of moral ambiguities, as he has been criticized by gay and straight readers alike for his frank representations of casual gay sex. In recent years he has emerged as the most important gay novelist in Great Britain since E. M. Forster.

Hollinghurst extends the narrative tradition inaugurated by Christopher Isherwood and developed most significantly by Edmund White in which a character's gayness is simply a given in the novel, forcing the reader to adjust his or her expectations accordingly. Hollinghurst neither idealizes nor melodramatizes his characters' experiences, but dares to present the emotional complexities of everyday gay life in all of their mundanity.

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Hollinghurst possesses a sharp eye for social excesses and for the individual's propensity for self-delusion. His satiric impulse is tempered by a lyrical gift that renders many passages poems in prose.

In Hollinghurst's novels, an exquisite aesthetic sensibility is conjoined with what Hollinghurst himself terms an acceptance of sex as "an essential thread running through everything . . . in a person's life." Were Marcel Proust or Ronald Firbank able to impose his style upon the subject matter of Jean Genet, the result would read like Hollinghurst's fiction.

Biography

Hollinghurst was born on May 26, 1954, into an economically comfortable, politically conservative household in Stroud, Gloucestershire. His father, a bank manager, was forty-four years old when his only child was born, and would die shortly after Hollinghurst published his second novel. His mother, who appears to have been somewhat distant emotionally, has expressed difficulty with the frank sexual content of her son's novels.

From ages seven to seventeen, Hollinghurst lived in the all-male environment of boarding schools, which he acknowledges influenced the development of his sexual imagination. In particular, as a senior boy he was prefect or "librarian" for the school's swimming facility, an experience that vested him with an appreciation of the erotic nature of changing rooms and the sensual appeal of near-naked bodies gliding through water.

Hollinghurst studied literature at Magdalen College, Oxford, where in 1980 he completed an M.Phil. thesis on the strategies adopted by writers such as Ronald Firbank, E. M. Forster, and L. P. Hartley to express covertly their sexuality in an age that demanded concealment. In the late 1970s he taught on various one-year appointments at Oxford's Magdalen, Somerville, and Corpus Christi colleges.

In 1982, within a year of moving to London to teach at University College, he was invited to join the staff of the Times Literary Supplement, where initially he edited the art pages, subsequently worked as poetry editor, and finally, from 1985 to 1995, served as Deputy Editor.

Initially, Hollinghurst intended to devote himself to writing poetry while working at the Times, and his first publication was Confidential Chats with Boys (1982), a collection of poems. His skill as a poet also allowed him to translate from the French Jean Racine's seventeenth-century verse drama, Bajazet (1991).

Hollinghurst has confessed in interviews that initially he found it difficult to sustain interest in writing a novel, having begun at least four different ones before a grant allowed him the time to concentrate on what would become The Swimming-Pool Library (1988). The novel appeared after Hollinghurst sent it to his former Oxford house mate (and subsequent Poet Laureate) Andrew Motion, who was then working at Chatto and Windus, an important London publishing house.

The novel, which depicts a young, self-involved gay man's life in London on the eve of the AIDS epidemic, enjoyed enormous critical and commercial success. (Edmund White, for example, praised it as "the best book on gay life yet written by an English author.") A publisher's advance for his next novel fortuitously arrived in the midst of a managerial shake-up at the Times, allowing Hollinghurst to purchase a semi-detached house on London's Hampstead Heath and leave the Times to concentrate full time on writing fiction.

Hollinghurst's second novel, The Folding Star (1994), treats the obsession that a thirty-three-year-old English tutor develops for his seventeen-year-old Belgian charge.

The Spell (1998), which follows the changing relationships among a group of friends and sometime lovers, deftly adapts to gay uses the simultaneously satiric and romantic conventions of the "weekend in the country" plot.

In addition to Hollinghurst's being named one of Granta magazine's best young British novelists in 1993, his novels have been awarded the Somerset Maugham Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, and a Lambda Literary Award.

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Alan Hollinghurst. Photograph by Robert Taylor.
  
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