The Swimming-Pool Library, by Alan Hollinghurst (23/107)

So I tried to read a book today, since I’m moving again in August and I could do without hauling six thirteen boxes of books with me this time. I didn’t get very far.

Because GAWD, literary fiction is dull.

I think what it boils down to is that I have absolutely no patience for protagonists whose fictional lives are less interesting than my real life. Bored, spoiled young aristocrat whose only interests are meaningless sex and being judgy? Gag me with a goddamn spoon. Or better yet, gag him.

And it kills me that this genre — these dreary, monumentally tedious accounts of ennui and promiscuity — is almost all that gay men ever write. This is the literature of my people, and yet it’s all I can do to slog through my self-imposed 50-page minimum before I’m like, FUCK THIS NOISE, I’D RATHER READ X-MEN FANFIC. >:(((((

(Incidentally, the reason why this book wound up on my shelf: a number of boys that OkCupid has tried to hook me up with listed Swimming-Pool Library as one of their favorites, and I thought it’d be nice to have some common ground. Yeah not so much, because “WHY WOULD YOU LIKE THAT BOOK? EXPLAIN YOURSELF!” may be a conversational gambit that works on me, but I’ve gathered that other people find it off-putting.)

It’s frustrating, and I can’t quite put my frustrations into words, because I want to be able to appreciate literary fiction. This is the stuff that’s supposed to be objectively high quality, but all I get when I read it are sporadically keen observations about people, protagonists whose reactions and thought processes are nothing like what I’d do or what I can relate to, and not giving any fucks about what they’re doing, usually because they don’t give any fucks. Relationships, romantic and otherwise, are utterly boring because the protagonist has an emotional range that runs the gamut from horny to disdainful. Yes, fine, it’s realistic, but it’s the kind of realism you can get by going outside and not enjoying your day.

How does anyone like this? I’m honestly at a loss.


In other news, I’ve wandered back over to the X-Men: First Class fandom now that ficcers have had time to write epics, and it is delightful! Erik and Charles, christ, the more I read of them the more they break my heart, because they are one of the most perfect tragedies in all of literature.

So rather than recommending Swimming-Pool Library, I’ll rec you some fics instead:

Most anything by AO3 writer Yahtzee; my standout favorites are Winter of Banked Fires, which gets my Best in Fandom award for post-X3 fix it fics, Enigma, and Anarchy in the UK. I like this author for a lot of reasons, but mostly because her work is intensely emotional and even in AUs does total justice to the depth and difficulty of their relationship. (Just don’t expect uncomplicated happy endings — that’s not what you go into XMFC fandom for.)

If You Liked the Book, You’ll Hate the Movie, which is a high school AU, of all things, but really good. Absorbing, atmospheric, frequently hilarious — vaguely like magical realism, in that there’s nothing outright impossible going on, but a lot of things that, when taken together, are sort of improbable. Seriously, I enjoy this more than I can explain why.

9 thoughts on “The Swimming-Pool Library, by Alan Hollinghurst (23/107)

  1. Because GAWD, literary fiction is dull.

    Yes, and that makes me sad. If you think gay literary fiction is dull, try reading “women’s fiction.” It’s pathetic, seriously. Yet, I’m supposed to like this stuff.

    I have absolutely no patience for protagonists whose fictional lives are less interesting than my real life.

    Yes! Exactly. My life might not be thrilling, but neither would I bore anybody with it. I’d rather read, and write, Avengers fanfic!

    I have colleagues who make fun of me for reading genre fiction. My response is, “At least I’m not bored into somnolence by it.

    Good luck with the move … you and your books!

  2. Well at this rate, not getting past the fifty-page mark on anything, I should be able to thin the herd in no time. -_-

    But seriously, I feel like I die a little inside every time I try to read a book and fail. I define myself as a reader, as someone who likes books, but it’s been nothing but disappointments for a very long time, and each new failure makes it incrementally more difficult to make myself pick up the next one. (Why bother? Odds are it’s going to suck too, right.)

    I like sci-fi/fantasy, and I like gay fiction, but I’m becoming progressively less interested in either of them without the other. And it’s hard to make myself read books that don’t give me that, when I know I could read fanfiction and enjoy it more. =/

    Mood: demoralized.

  3. And see, my life actually is pretty interesting — alternates between “like a rom-com, before the protagonist meets Mr Right” and downright surreal. To wit: I once had an anonymous sexual encounter with a guy who later adapted it to the stage. I doubt it was very flattering, since he was profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of me going to see it, but there you go.

  4. You win. :-) I just had a very adolescent poem written about a relationship i had that was published in a college literary magazine … and I was the editor!

  5. I’m in the same boat: it becomes incredibly difficult to find the motivation to pick up a book when I am mostly certain I will be disappointed. And so often books are disappointing. I actually think this is the product of being a good reader, which is similar to developing a good palate for food: the more I read, the pickier I become. If I’m thinking the whole time that I could do a better job (telling the story, preparing the food), what’s the point?

    But fanfiction? I know I can always find something superb (I mean, there’s a lot of horrible stuff as well — but the number of works available is so staggering that, with a little care, I can always find something to wrap myself up in). We live in an interesting time, in which published fiction often sucks and the stuff that’s available for free as products of fan culture is often wonderful and complex and inspiring.

  6. …and we have the same opinion about Swimming-Pool Library. I might give up reading the TLS altogether and just read your reviews.

    Everyone in The Establishment adores Hollinghurst to a slightly nauseating extent, and I always get: “Oh you must love him, on account of you being a geeky academic who uses big words, and also liking slashfic” and I’m like: meh. I actually fell asleep on holiday while reading this, and mushed it into my face, managing to mangle the book, and my face. And I didn’t even care. Enough said. Not to be deterred, I did also read The Line of Beauty and The Stranger’s Child, both of which were (slightly) better.

  7. (sorry, it’s 5 AM, and I can’t figure out what TLS stands for? o_O)

    Seems kind of like being expected to like Brokeback Mountain, because it’s gay and got awards and shit, while I’m like, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, HOW I HATE THEE, LET ME THE COUNT THE WAYS. The most damning flaw of which is that it’s just boring.

    A friend of mine remarked on a different post that gay dudes going all the way back to Wilde have tended to glorify that particular brand of hedonism, and as soon as I thought about it, I thought he was absolutely right. And it bores me to tears. -_-

  8. TLS = The Times Literary Supplement. Sometimes I experiment with hip new literary review magazines, and then they inevitably go bust, and I crawl back to the arms of the TLS being all like: sorry mummy, I didn’t mean to call you conservative and boring, at least you won’t abandon me like all the others, please can I read your reviews again so I can sound intelligent at dinner parties? Please? Thanks. I’ll never leave you again. Then Borders went bust, so I don’t even know anywhere that sells hip new literary review magazines anymore, so…

    I admit to having a slight soft spot for Brokeback, but this is mainly because of Jake Gyllenhaal. Having spent my teenage years exhibiting mild disdain for my contemporaries who plastered their walls with posters of Brad Pitt and Leo DiCaprio and pined after ‘famous’ people with something approaching clinical erotomania (my walls were covered with semi-ironic adverts for condoms and one poster of a young Paul Newman, because I am that fucking cool ahem) I finally went slightly nuts for JG (“no, really, if we met in RL I honestly think we’d really get on”). *Hangs head in shame*. So I’ll basically watch anything with him in, even if it’s shit (hello Prince of Persia). Particularly if he’s in it with his top off (hello Prince… oh, hang on, I just did that bit) and particularly if he’s kissing Heath Ledger. So. Yeah. But I totally take your point. Also, the Annie Proulx short story it’s based on is pretty decent, have you read that? Sometimes her collections get a bit too John Ford-esque, but I did enjoy Brokeback.

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