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In Alan Hollinghurst’s Latest, a Hazy Sex Scandal Looms Over Many Lives

His novels do not come around particularly often — his new one, “The Sparsholt Affair,” is his sixth in 30 years — but they are always worth attending to.

“The Sparsholt Affair” plays out across nearly a century of gay life in England. It begins in 1940 when David Sparsholt, an impossibly handsome young man bound for a military career, arrives at Oxford University.

Despite having a fiancée, David becomes an object of intense desire among an elite group of closeted young students. They want to paint him, memorialize him in verse and in diaries, and be near him at mealtimes. Most of all, they want to say what one eventually does: “I had him.”


Alan Hollinghurst

Robert Taylor

We follow a handful of these men, several of whom are writers, through the novel. Primarily we follow David’s son, Johnny, the product of his eventual marriage, who becomes a painter and who is also gay.

The book moves from Johnny’s experiences in raffish 1970s London to the city’s turn-of-the-millennium rave scene to his social

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