The Sparsholt Affair
The Sparsholt Affair in Alan Hollinghurst’s latest, decades spanning, novel, takes place in the 1960s and involves a gay affair between World War II hero David Sparsholt, his lover and an MP. The (fictional) case was evidently incredibly notorious but Hollinghurst dances deftly around it here, instead centering the bulk of the narrative around Sparsholt’s son, Johnny, who we’re first introduced to in the second section of the book set in 1965. Before then, we get a glimpse of Sparsholt as a young man at Oxford in 1940, and his clutch of admirers who crop up in subsequent sections that take in the 1970s through to the present day. We also follow Johnny as he makes his way in the world, first as a picture restorer, then as a society portrait artist. Rather like with previous novels such as The Stranger’s Child, Hollinghurst exchanges a burning narrative pull for the built-in poignancies that arrive with the passage of time, but he remains a masterful storyteller and marshal of his characters, whether he has them sharing furtive halves in wartime Oxford, or necking pills in London’s present day gay clubs.