The Swimming-Pool Library

by Alan Hollinghurst

Paperback, 2015



Call number



Vintage Classics (2015), 432 pages


This novel centres on the friendship of William Beckwith, a young gay aristocrat who leads a life of privilege and promiscuity, and the elderly Lord Nantwich, who is searching for someone to write his biography.

User reviews

LibraryThing member elliepotten
A compelling and sexy novel about a decadent, gay young aristocrat in 80’s London whose life is changed irrevocably when he saves the life of the elderly Lord Nantwich. Will has time on his hands and little in his life but sex and self-indulgence, so when his new friend asks him to write his
Show More
memoirs he cannot find a good enough excuse to say no.

From the moment Will starts reading the journals of Charles Nantwich, new truths and new perspectives are opened up to him. The people he thought he knew are thrown into new light, new histories are revealed, and all the while his life goes on, clawing its way towards a new maturity.

The intertwining of Will's London and Charles's experiences as a young man, at university, as a soldier abroad, and into middle age, works beautifully and doesn't confuse the reader or become offputting. At the same time the novel raises many complex issues around class, sexuality and race over the decades, and the treatment of minority groups in England. The end was frustratingly brief and inconclusive, but the rest of the novel was absorbing enough to excuse it. I'm glad I got it out of the library as I don't think I'd read it again, but I would definitely recommend it to people with open minds who don't mind putting a bit of thought into their reading experience.
Show Less
LibraryThing member AddictedToMorphemes
Will Beckwith, a young man in his 20s, is cruising for sex in a public restroom when 80-year-old Lord Nantwich collapses from a heart attack. As others scatter so they are not discovered in a known location for cottaging, young Will resuscitates the victim, and in so doing, saves his life.

The two
Show More
acquaintances are on their way to becoming friends when the old lord requests that Will write his memoirs, which Will discovers are not altogether tame. There is a vast difference in their ages but the younger is seemingly living a parallel life to what the elderly gentleman lived. Their lives contain excess debauchery at a time before the threat of AIDS. As wild as young Will is, he is still a bit turned off and offended by some of the old lord's antics.

Their lifestyle of flitting around from one new sexual conquest to the next, even when they feel like they are in love with a regular partner, may be a combination of their personal tastes and friendship circles and/or the fact that homosexual men would have had to find safe places where they could be themselves; often leading them to bathhouses, gay cinemas, public restroom "cottaging" or to similar places where they were free to openly express and enjoy their sexuality, which tended to be environments of complete hedonism.

These two characters were an enigma. Most of the time I wasn't sure whether I liked them very much for they both had little regard for anyone but themselves and seemed to thrive on their own power and control over others; from the outside looking in, they both come across as abusive.
Show Less
LibraryThing member PilgrimJess
Set in London in 1983, The Swimming-Pool Library centres the promiscuous lifestyle of homosexual Will Beckwith, an aristocratic young man, who spends his days idling and picking up other gay men. When, one day,he saves the life of Charles Nantwich, an octogenarian peer, a friendship develops. When
Show More
he was much younger Lord Nantwich served in the foreign service in Africa and he gives Will his old diaries in the hope that he will write his biography.

As Will reads through the diaries we discover that, despite the 60 year age difference, there are many parallels between the lives of the two men. Both come from privileged backgrounds, led self-indulgent lifestyles spent pursuing young men for casual sex with both showing a preference for black men. However, whilst Nantwich was forced to conceal his sexual preferences Will lives in a society that not only tolerates homosexuality but also one that must conceal any prejudices it may still retain.

The similarity of the two characters’ youth can certainly be read as a comment on the ruling class where a colonial sense of entitlement especially towards ethnic minorities, even if inadvertent, means that changes to habits and attitudes are slow to materialise.

Extracts from Lord Nantwich’s diary, with its depictions of repressed homosexuality, breaks up the main narrative which is liberally peppered with graphic sex scenes. Yet a sense of loneliness pervades the book, many of the characters live solitary existences, interspersed by wild, but ultimately meaningless sexual encounters.

There is undoubtedly a certain elegance to the prose but overall the plot felt meandering and aimless. Will seems incapable of questioning let alone altering his lifestyle no matter what befalls him. In truth, the novel felt over-sexed to the point of tedium and the sexual interludes seem to serve no purpose other than to show the increasingly liberal attitudes of both the reading public and society in general has become. Although admittedly this may be because today we are armed with the knowledge of the AIDS epidemic that occurred only a few years after this book was set. The book is populated almost exclusively by promiscuous homosexual men meaning that overall this felt like a celebration of a gay sub-culture, but little more. On more than one occasion I was tempted to throw in the towel and give up but persevered in the hope that it would come to some conclusion only to be ultimately left sadly disappointed.
Show Less
LibraryThing member woollymammoth
Used to be belong to one of my Gay Flatmates. Appaerntly it's a classic. Must read it.
LibraryThing member alexyskwan
Haunting, beautiful, lyrical, and ultimately heartbreaking.
LibraryThing member jshullih
This book was well written with an interesting twist at the end. I did not read any of the reviews before I read this book and was a little surprised by the descriptions of sexual encounters. I don't typically read books with graphic content, but the plot and writing made it worthwhile.
LibraryThing member stunik
adult situations (sex, theme); needs parental permission
LibraryThing member bobbieharv
Good writing, as usual; lots of gay sex, as usual.
LibraryThing member ChrisGurr
This book is wonderful form page one. I have read it more times than i can remember.
LibraryThing member Franchuk
Interesting enough, I suppose, although I have not read widely in the genre and cannot really compare it with much. Not sure how I feel about the way it ends. Or doesn't.
LibraryThing member jeniwren
Set in London before the onset of AIDS and centres on that of William a homosexual aristocrat who leads a charmed life albiet a very promiscuous one. Definitely no safe sex practices here and includes some very graphic gay sex descriptions. The novel centres on his friendship with an elderly Lord
Show More
who is looking for someone to write his biography. Soon he finds himself immersed in his many diaries and journals where as a young man he experiences war, university and middle age and looks at issues of class,sexuality, race and changing attitudes over several decades. Hollinghurst is a fine writer and I enjoyed this his debut novel and looking forward to reading his most recent novel and long listing for the Man Booker ' The Strangers Child'.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Cecilturtle
I found this book a little disjointed. Given that it really is a slice of life, of a young man who leads a disjointed life, it's hardly surprising, but I found asking myself: where is this going? Whatever happened to that character or this one? I suppose in a life of promiscuity and flightiness, it
Show More
makes sense and give a true colour of a certain lifestyle - certainly I liked the raw and cruel writing.
There are some thing I thoroughly enjoyed, however: the numerous descriptions of architecture that permeated through the book and gave it an eerie and dissolute sensation, from Charles's basement and club to the pool and cinema - these intense and mysterious spaces lend fabulous depth to the novel. Then, of course, was the unexpected twist and subsequent reflection which veered the novel to a new awareness.
A unique and surprising read.
Show Less
LibraryThing member dbsovereign
A book that describes what it was like to have lived in the pre-plague 70s and 80s, and even though the action occurs in London, it could also describe the same timeframe in San Francisco. Crazy, libidinous.
LibraryThing member jeffome
St. Barts 2019 #3 - This was a very unexpected read...grabbed it randomly off my shelf for vacation. It was unexpectedly graphic early on, and i thought i might be in for a bit of a sleazy novel of sorts....but then it started going in different directions....and while it remained unexpectedly
Show More
sexually explicit, it also did a lot more. It was rather 2 stories in one....a current story and one from a few generations back.....the struggle for societal acceptance of gay behavior...both from the 1920'-50's.....and again in the present of the story, the 1980's.....all of this told from the point of view of a rather spoiled rich kid with titled forebears living a carefree and reckless London life of fun and promiscuous frolic, not having to work, who spends time almost daily at his local club with gym, swimming pool, and of course, the showers.....and he is enticed to consider writing the biography of an older, fading gentleman of similar ilk from 2 generations prior he met there.....creating a remarkable revelatory adventure of learning about himself, his family's past, and where he might be heading, all the while piecing together the earlier life of his subject. Interesting, occasionally unexpected, thoughtful, and again, explicit..... but in a seemingly very honest way rather than the gratuitousness i thought i was in for. An insightful story that chronicles the earlier struggles for acceptance that are now oft forgotten and taken for granted. Did not expect to like it when i began, and it ended up with 4 stars, which surprises even me.
Show Less
LibraryThing member pgchuis
I'm quitting this. It's well written, but, having put it down to read something else, I feel no inclination to pick it up again. The first sentence of the Goodreads blurb says it all.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

432 p.; 7.79 inches


1784870315 / 9781784870317
Page: 0.7475 seconds