I remember the day I began reading this book. A bookcase at home unsurprisingly collapsed, Tower of Babel-like, under the weight of so many tomes, and as its replacement was lovingly installed, I came across this novel and decided to give it a go.
I was hooked from the first page on reading : “with the book held tiringly above her face…now the light had gone and the words began to hide themselves on the page”.
Am about to embark on another Hollingsworth choice, as I did find this a compelling tale well told, and am happy there is quite a bit more to discover. I do however have friends who have been disappointed with this read, so had to think long and hard about what I really enjoyed about it. Think it is the depiction of the loss of memory, the idea of how things are interpreted over the decades, and the actual style of writing that resonated with me.
Have seen comparisons with literary greats from “Brideshead Revisited” mentioned in reviews, and Hollinghurst is sometimes held up to be the heir apparent for Henry James – and he is a past master at set-piece recounting (describes that highly cultured wife half way through, for example, as having “a hard, good-looking face, thoroughly made up, and a manner he knew at once, from its tight smiles and frowns, of getting people to do things“, and plentiful examples abound). I was oft reminded of certain scenes from McEwan’s “Atonement”, and felt it was reminiscent too of the gloriously flowing style that Sarah Waters employs.
Felt a surge of strange joy yet worried recognition around page 500, with the comment that
“she felt something similar, but worse in a way, about hundreds and hundreds of books she had read, novels, biographies, occasional books about music and art – she could remember nothing about them at all, so that it seemed rather pointless even to say that she had read them”.
It’s a horrible feeling to know you know something, yet cannot retrieve it from the filed bookshelves of your mind. Another shudder, and am off to partake in some additional Vitamin C.
Read in August 2013.
Rated : 10/10
Man Booker Prize Longlist 2011, National Book Award UK Author of the Year 2011, Walter Scott Prize Nominee 2012, Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger 2013…