Alan Hollinghurst Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Alan Hollinghurst The Folding Star

Award: James Tait Black Memorial Book Prize for Fiction

Born in 1954, Hollinghurst is an English novelist, editor, poet, and critic.

For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 55.

Described as a homosexual version of Vladimir Nabokov's novel, Lolita (1955), The Folding Star (1994) concerns Edward Manners, a gay British teacher who leaves his birthplace to begin a tutoring job in Belgium. Although he engages in various affairs with men of questionable intentions, Manners becomes so enamored and obsessed with one of his young paramours, Luc Altidore, that he follows him, spies on him, and steals articles of his clothing. After consummating their relationship—an event initiated by Luc—the teenager runs away and Manners, still preoccupied with his student, begins a search for him. Hollinghurst interweaves the story of Manners and Luc with that of a Symbolist painter of Flemish origins named Edgard Orst, who, like Manners, was infatuated with one of his young models.

Noted for its focus on physical attraction, sex and sexuality, fixation, and the feelings of anticipation and loss associated with desire, The Folding Star has received a mixed reception. Hollinghurst has occasionally been castigated for introducing the historical story line concerning Orst instead of focusing on gay characters in a contemporary setting and for refusing to examine the sanctity of the student-teacher relationship. The novel's main characters and its depiction of romantic love have also been faulted as unconvincing and undeveloped. Nevertheless, Hollinghurst has been praised for his examination of art and desire, and his use of a gay protagonist. Nominated for the Booker Prize as well as the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, The Folding Star has also been lauded for its elegiac depiction of English society and culture—particularly in those sections recounting Manners's childhood—and for its literary richness. The novel, for example, has been compared to Lolita, Thomas Mann's Der Tod in Venedig (1912; Death in Venice), and Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu (1954; Remembrance of Things Past); the story also takes its title from a poem by John Milton, which relates, in part, a shepherd's obligations to his flock. Gabriele Annan has noted, however, that these intertextual aspects of the book do "not make the novel a quilt of pastiches…. The texture of [The Folding Star] is as densely sophisticated as a Flemish tapestry (though tapestry is the one form of Flemish art that doesn't figure in it). That is one reason why it is an immense pleasure to read; the others are funniness and poetry, both handled with amazing sensitivity and accuracy."