“The Swimming Pool Library” by Alan Hollinghurst ★★★

Will Beckwith, a young man in his 20s, is cruising for sex in a public restroom when 80-year-old Lord Nantwich collapses from a heart attack. As others scatter so they are not discovered in a known location for cottaging, young Will resuscitates the victim, and in so doing, saves his life.

The two acquaintances are on their way to becoming friends when the old lord requests that Will write his memoirs, which Will discovers are not altogether tame. There is a vast difference in their ages but the younger is seemingly living a parallel life to what the elderly gentleman lived. Their lives contain excess debauchery at a time before the threat of AIDS. As wild as young Will is, he is still a bit turned off and offended by some of the old lord’s antics.

Their lifestyle of flitting around from one new sexual conquest to the next, even when they feel like they are in love with a regular partner, may be a combination of their personal tastes and friendship circles and/or the fact that homosexual men would have had to find safe places where they could be themselves; often leading them to bathhouses, gay cinemas, public restroom “cottaging” or to similar places where they were free to openly express and enjoy their sexuality, which tended to be environments of complete hedonism.

These two characters were an enigma. Most of the time I wasn’t sure whether I liked them very much for they both had little regard for anyone but themselves and seemed to thrive on their own power and control over others; from the outside looking in, they both come across as abusive.

 

The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst

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