One of my favorite authors is Alan Hollinghurst, who won the booker prize for The Line of Beauty. His prose is what captivates me the most, lush and lyrical and beautiful.
I was working my way through booker prize winners when I first came across The Line of Beauty. I didn’t know what the plot was about when I opened it. I thought the first couple pages were boring. Just when I was going to put the book down, the MC puts out a gay personal ad in the paper. And bam I was hooked. Yeah … I’m shallow like that.
But the subject of this blog post is false epiphanies, which brings up his debut fiction released back in the 80’s, The Swimming Pool Library. I just finished it a few days ago. The prose is exquisite as always.
Well it is literary, there isn’t much of a story. It just follows a rich guy in 80’s london before the AIDS scare. He spends his days having random sex with strangers in parks, porno theatres, bathrooms etc. He keeps paramours with boys younger and poorer than him. When he isn’t fucking, he goes to a exclusive swimming pool frequented by gay men and fantasizes about the next piece of ass. The one meaningful functional relationship in his life is the one he has with his best friend. He’s lazy, conceited, shallow and extremely self-unaware. But he isn’t malicious or wicked or a hard ass. He just doesn’t care to lead a more meaningful life.
In between his fucking adventures, he is reading up on the diaries of a gay lord, for whom he’s considering writing a biography. The diaries dates back to the 1920’s when the lord worked in the Sudan. The old lord is another old dunderhead who is also just as sex-obsessed over his boy servants as the MC. While you can excuse the MC because he’s young and desirable, the lord however is old and pitiable and just pathetic. You can already string the consequences. If the MC doesn’t change his ways, he’ll end up like the old lord.
A few things happen in the book that cause him consternation, the most significant of which is his best friend being caught in some trouble. And in the last couple pages, the MC thinks about changing for the better. He actually thinks about it, dreams about leading a more meaningful life. Then he tries to secure the help the friend needs. The ploy fails, not because of his fault though. But the setback is enough for him to go stomping back to the swimming pool and drooling over a nice piece of ass. And the book ends.
Now will MC follow up on the ploy? Who knows. But I have faith he will or the friend will really be screwed. But will the MC change his freewheeling ways? Probably not. Basically, Hollinghurst employs a false epiphany technique. Bring the MC feel change, but when the MC actually tries to act it, it fails for some reason or another. Chekhov is a matter of this technique in his short stories. A false epiphany is extremely realistic. Think about the times in your life, you wanted to do something, but you didn’t follow through.
And you know, Hollinghurst’s MC changing and discovering the power of love and sacrifice would have been trite and silly. It wouldn’t have made much real sense. But then again, the story doesn’t leave me satisfied, depressed really.