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[29] The Spell – Alan Hollinghurst

Unlike The Line of Beauty, Hollinghurst’s most recent release, which affords the usual elegant prose of the story of a young man under the roof of a Parliament member during Margaret Thatcher’s England, The Spell is almost completely rid of political overtone. Tinged with pique and cross-purpose jokes, page by page the novel weaves a tapestry of love, lust, and loss among a group of middle-class gay Englishmen who are friends, ex-lovers, father and son. In exploring each of these relations and the uneasy conflicts, Hollinghurst’s elegant, crisp prose fosters a sharp observation and psychological insight that accentuate these men’s vulnerability.

Close reading of The Spell reveals a very fine-tuned delineation of each of the four men, whose personalities and struggles incontrovertibly pervade in many of us. The story kicks off when the 36-years-old Alex accepts invitation from his ex-boyfriend Justin to spend a weekend in the country home with his new lover Robin, a forty-something gay dad. The prose lends its abrupt nature to the suspicion that Justin must out of his guilty respect for Alex’s feelings to extend the solicitous invitation. But Alex is mellow and meek – he can never blame Justin for capriciously leaving him. He still misses Justin despite of the devastating evidence that what his friends hostilely say about him is vindicated. From the weekend gathering Hollinghurst probes the topography of the hearts of these men.

That Hollinghurst is able to capture the terrain of his characters’ emotional and mental struggle through the intimacy of their thoughts touches me. The novel is an immediate warm attachment to my heart. Even though Alex is constantly in people’s company, the companionship and the bar scenes compound his loneliness and amplify his depression. Alex’s absence of any allusion to his ex-lover’s new love is clear sign of how upset he might be. No sooner has he arrived than he regrets of taking up the invitation because he has to hide how wounded he is by Justin, and thrives to sustain the right pitch of pretended toward Robin. What ultimately dooms him is the cruel reality of his failure in relationship, that no other man will want him and to fall in love with him. This is not easy for someone like Alex who is serious, cultured, someone who wears his sleeve out in a relationship, and that one relationship into which he imbues all his hope breaks his heart. That commitment and innocence shall meet a reckless betrayal in the end must arouse sympathy.

Hollinghurst’s novel is never deprived of drug escapade. At the crossroad of relationship, Alex insouciantly drops a tab of ecstasy, provided by Robin’s gay son, and plunges into the rave, high-energy, substance-fuelled London club scenes. Alex embraces nightlife as if it might promise a love life that is not as checkered. Under the power of the E pill, Alex has no regret of his late-booming hedonism in which he gropes in an unbridled way different kinds of happiness. As he dawns on his self-discovery through the liberation, the shock of seeing Alex again brings about Justin a quiet bout of vexation, undulation, whoofs of lust, and puzzled fondness. Reunion with Alex and his fight with Robin seizes Justin with the grip of scruple over his momentary caprice that sometimes can cause a horrid nuisance in someone else’s life.

The Spell with the outward blowsy parties and carefree affairs is endowed with an undertow of finding true love. It embraces the longing for a soul mate despite a humanistic thirst for carnal deviance. It maps out different paths in life taken by various men. The path could be one that has been gripped and shaped by sexual lore, or one that witnesses the constant indispensable presence of lovers, or one that relishes the deceits and the success of which delivers a sense of competence.

One Response

  1. hi.

    it’s my pleasure to be linked by you.

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