It’s been 30 years since Alan Hollinghurst published his remarkable first novel, <The Swimming-Pool Library>, an exuberant epistle to the pleasures of men’s bodies set in London in 1983, just before AIDS would bring the post-Stonewall bacchanal of liberated gay sexuality to an abrupt halt. Hollinghurst’s debut was a landmark in gay fiction (it went to No. 2 on the UK bestseller lists in its second week of publication), but it also established themes that have percolated through his subsequent novels, most notably in <The Line of Beauty>, winner of the 2004 Man Booker Prize.
In that book, a young man from the suburban middle class is punished for violating the protocols of class after insinuating himself into the household of a well-to-do friend he lusts after. <The Line of Beauty> was a touchstone for Marlon James, who read it in 2005, just as he was publishing his first novel, <John Crow’s Devil>. James, too, would go on to win the Booker Prize, for <A Brief History of Seven Killings>, his 2014 novel in which the real-life assassination attempt on Bob Marley is used to interrogate the lives of a group of characters pulled into each others’ orbits. Like an expert ventriloquist, James creates a series of overlapping narratives from a cast of desperados, many of whom are destined for an untimely end. The result is breathtaking. Although quite different novelists, Hollinghurst and James share a fearlessness and bravado that make their books feel singularly their own. In the gilded splendor of New York’s Russian Tea Room, Hollinghurst, visiting the US to promote his new novel, <The Sparsholt Affair>, sat down with James to discuss class, race, and sexual identity in their work.