The Spell

by Alan Hollinghurst

Published: May 2000
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Pages: 272
Paperback
ISBN: 9780140286373

       

Overview of The Spell

Alan Hollinghurst's tour-de-force debut, The Swimming-Pool Library, was a literary sensation. Edmund White called it "the best book on gay life yet written by an English author." The Village Voice described it as "buoyant, smart, irrepressibly sexy...[with the] heft and resonance of a classic modernist novel." The New York Times Book Review raved about its "shimmering elegance" and "camp-fired wit." The New York Review of Books dubbed his second book, The Folding Star, a "miniature Remembrance of Things Past...an expanded Death in Venice...a homosexual Lolita." The Spell is Hollinghurst's most polished and entertaining novel to date. Here he marries Jane Austen's delicious social asperity with a sly eroticism in a story as romantic and surprising as anything he has written. Set in London and the idyllic countryside, the narrative tracks the interlocking passions of four men. As each character falls successively under the spell of love or drugs, country living or urban glamour, The Spell unfurls into a richly witty picture of modern gay life...and of all human affairs of the heart.

Synopsis of The Spell

Alan Hollinghurst's tour-de-force debut, The Swimming-Pool Library, was a literary sensation. Edmund White called it "the best book on gay life yet written by an English author." The Village Voice described it as "buoyant, smart, irrepressibly sexy...[with the] heft and resonance of a classic modernist novel." The New York Times Book Review raved about its "shimmering elegance" and "camp-fired wit." The New York Review of Books dubbed his second book, The Folding Star, a "miniature Remembrance of Things Past...an expanded Death in Venice...a homosexual Lolita." The Spell is Hollinghurst's most polished and entertaining novel to date. Here he marries Jane Austen's delicious social asperity with a sly eroticism in a story as romantic and surprising as anything he has written. Set in London and the idyllic countryside, the narrative tracks the interlocking passions of four men. As each character falls successively under the spell of love or drugs, country living or urban glamour, The Spell unfurls into a richly witty picture of modern gay life...and of all human affairs of the heart.

Time Out New York - David Bahr

By couching gay erotic narratives in rich, sensual prose and erudite references, the English author proved that contemporary fiction needn't be dum to be sexy fun.... [The Spell is] part Restoration comedy, part BBC sitcom...the recently jilted or teminally jaded should find comic comfort in this slight amusement from an otherwise hefty talent.

About the Author, Alan Hollinghurst

Alan Hollinghurst was born in 1954. He is the author of one of the most highly praised first novels to appear in the 1980s, The Swimming-Pool Library, and was selected as one of the Best of Young British Novelists 1993. His second novel, The Folding Star, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and was shortlisted for the 1994 Booker Prize. He was on the staff of the Times Literary Supplement from 1982 to 1995.

Reviews of The Spell

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Editorials

David Bahr

By couching gay erotic narratives in rich, sensual prose and erudite references, the English author proved that contemporary fiction needn't be dum to be sexy fun.... [The Spell is] part Restoration comedy, part BBC sitcom...the recently jilted or teminally jaded should find comic comfort in this slight amusement from an otherwise hefty talent.
Time Out New York

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly

Confirming his status as the preeminent new voice chronicling the worldly, debauched erotics of linguistically limber gay British men, Hollinghurst (The Swimming-Pool Library; The Folding Star, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize) explores London's drug-addled discos and Dorset's country charms. This colorful and often breathtakingly eloquent novel follows the lives of four gay men in the late '90s. After his longtime lover dies from AIDS, Robin Woodfield, "big and fit and handsomely unshaven" and at 46 still scoring with much younger men sets up house with the utterly selfish and duplicitous (though of course fetching) 35-year-old Justin. The two had been meeting for regular and "fierce speechless sex" in a public loo during the degeneration of Justin's relationship with the decent, tender and very handsome Alex. But Alex isn't exactly dumped. He spends a weekend at the Dorset cottage with the lovebirds, and succumbs to the sexual charm of another Woodfield, Robin's randy gay son, Danny. Alcohol, drugs and a high-camp combination of butch bravado and queenly preening keep the social wheels lubricated. A witty and ingenious writer, Hollinghurst weaves prose that shifts deftly from steamy sex to genteel country living, from edgy cocaine-fed conversations to delicately sensuous observations about the "tussocky hillside" or "crowded dim moons of cow-parsley." He also conveys a significant empathy for the perennial struggle of urban gay men to find true love without forfeiting their sexual autonomy. The author excels at pithy character portraits, and his keen observations of human nature (gay and otherwise) give a depth and realism even to the bit players in this marvelous tale.

Library Journal

Set mostly in the English countryside, Hollinghursts third novel dices the complicated, jumbled lives of his four main gay characters: father and son and their new partners (who are ex-lovers). A wry novel of manners in the fashion of Jane Austens work, this novel through its omniscient point of view, exposes these stressed Londoners as they protect the ones they love (presumably each other, but certainly themselves) with small lies and little omissions. Their mixed-up relationships and compromised interests find perfect expression in the tangled garden they have no time to tend. Hollinghurst has a deft authorial hand (a game of Scrabble turns into a scene of internal fulmination and an outward display of social power). This novel firmly establishes the author after his first works: The Swimming Pool Library (LJ 9/1/88) and The Folding Star (LJ 10/1/94). Recommended for public and academic libraries and for specialized collections of gay literature.Roger W. Durbin, Univ. of Akron, OH

Daniel Mendelsohn

Admirers of this gifted writer can only hope that he'll rouse himeslf from this Spell and return with another of the rich and complicated fictions that makred him out as more than a "gay" novelist to begin with.
The New York Times Book Review

Kirkus Reviews

Like The Swimming Pool Library (1988) and The Folding Star (1994), Hollinghurst's third attempts an ambitious exploration of gay male experiences and relationships. Each of four principal characters muddles along (in London and environs) professionally, socially, and romantically, in the grip of his own distinctive obsession (or "spell"). Late-40ish architect Robin Woodfield, mourning the death from AIDS of his lover Simon, seeks another erotic counterpart to "the secret technical joy he had always got from buildings." Robin's younger new lover Justin is a campy flibbertigibbet who's less attentive either to Robin or to his own ex, Alex, than to the sybaritic freedom gained when he comes into a huge inheritance. Alex, a gentle and passive soul who works for the Foreign Office, is betrayed repeatedly by his naive dream of perfect love-most cruelly by Robin's son Danny, a heedlessly beautiful youth driven by his "blind desire to know the world through sex." Moving confidently (if at times lugubriously) among their several viewpoints, Hollinghurst brings these four (and also acquaintances such as the handsome young workingman who plays them all expertly) into and out of varying degrees of intimacy and commitment, dramatized most successfully in several crisply observed scenes that include the comic saturnalia of Danny's 23rd party, a tea-party discussion of campanology (the subtext of which is, predictably, sex), and, especially, Robin's uncomfortable conversation with an intense young evangelist who claims to have channeled the spirit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. More such scenes would have helped, since the minimal comic relief provided by Justin's bitchy wit is vitiated byour growing understanding of his essential shallowness and selfishness. This is, in fact, never less than honest and realistic; but it feels limited and insular to the extent that its characters seem defined-and limited-by their sexual natures. A near miss: Hollinghurst can do better.

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