That Sort of Thing
Having liked Barker's spare but powerful and beautifully rendered Regeneration trilogy, about World War I soldiers and survivors, I was shocked at how pedestrian, clichéd, and almost completely lacking in verisimilitude her more recent Life Class—also a WWI story—was. Honestly, the self-absorbed-artists-in-love first half could be a Lifetime movie set in the mid-1990s with very few alterations.
"For what it's worth, I think he's still very much in love with you."
"Then he's got a bloody funny way of showing it."
That sort of thing.
I tried to stick with it once the plot moved to the war front, where the book admittedly improved in just about every way, but the first part had wasted so much of my time—which could have been used making me care about the characters—that I just couldn't muster the interest. Anyway, the Regeneration books covered the exact same territory so much better. Why bother?
What a delicious, chocolaty pleasure to now to turn to an Alan Hollinghurst novel. I've been reading him out of order, most recently his first, The Swimming-Pool Library (which I never blogged about; let's say for the time being that it was clearly the first novel of a great author who hadn't yet come into his own, which isn't to say I didn't like it). I've just started his third, The Spell, which is my fifth and last Hollinghurst until his next one comes out.
Here one of the characters, Alex, visits an ex, who is lying out in the sun wearing a thong:
Alex loitered beside him for a minute, unable not to look, hot-faced and haggard above the sprawl of what he had lost. . . . His eyes took in the blond down on the calves darkened with sun-oil, and the slumbrous weight of the buttocks with the tongue of lycra buried between them, and the arms pointing backwards like flippers . . . .
Then there's the "hurrying greeny-black surface of the stream." Later, Alex "felt needlessly shy, as if warned at the beginning of a party of some worrying game to be played after tea."
That sort of thing. Each word a joy.
D. and I have simultaneously started watching the BBC adaptation of Holinghurst's The Line of Beauty, starring none other than Dan Stevens, who plays Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey. What's left of an Alan Hollinghurst novel without Hollinghurst's incredible language and observation? A story, some characters, relationships. Perhaps more—we've only watched the first of the three episodes. Kudos to the BBC for tackling such forthrightly gay material, even if Stevens's smiley take on what in the book is a seriously horny sex-in-the-park scene is a little too "jolly good."