30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2004
Alan Hollinghurst is certainly a crafty wordsmith. This book is beautifully written.
The story is basically that of an aging gay male becoming obsessed with his beautiful young student. Edward Manners becomes the tutor for a wealthy high school aged fellow, Luc. At first Edward sees a thin immature youth but as the story progresses, Edward becomes more obsessed with Luc and the descriptions of Luc change to match Edward's changing perception. This portion of the story is well told and certainly accurately portrays the process of obsession that seduces gradually, obliterating common sense and good judgement.
Edward recognizes that he has lost his bearings when he finds himself continually thinking about Luc, spying on him when he is on holiday with his friends, imagining him having sex with other young men or women, remaining fixated as to whether Luc is gay or straight, and even leaving tutoring sessions to use the bathroom so that he can smell Luc's dirty laundry.
Hollinghurst then begins to break the bubbles or desire that Edward has created. Luc becomes more realistic and less idealized. He becomes more human and more mundane. Eventually all the questions Edward has about Luc are answered, or at least many of the questions are answered. Edward begins the painful process of healing the wounds left by obsession as Luc drifts out of his life.
I found the book to be one of the best descriptions of the natural history of obsession since Robert Plant's The Catholic. Obsession is revealed to be a wounding, out of mind experience, from which we only gradually recover. Hollingshurst caught it well in this well written book.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 1997
If you read Hollinghurst's first novel THE SWIMMING POOL LIBRARY, you know that the excellence of his writing puts him more in a tradition with the likes of such masters as George Eliot, Henry James and E.M. Forster than in the tradition of contemporary gay fiction, no matter how boldly graphic some of his moments might be. But whereas SWIMMING POOL LIBRARY is a breakneck tale of reckless, amoral and privileged youth before AIDS, THE FOLDING STAR is in some ways its spiritual successor - its mid30s protagonist has experienced enough loss (of his father, several friends, a first love) to have shed the certainty and arrogance that characterized the first book's young subject, and has fled his English hometown to a small unnamed city in Belgium where he becomes the tutor of two high school boys, one of whom, Luc Altidore, the subject of a previous mysterious "scandal," becomes his obsession. But as in LOLITA, the obsession is as sad as it is perverse, reflecting back more on Edward's (the protag.) receding youth and present aimlessness than on the attributes of the boy himself, who, like Lolita, is revealed coyly and only half outside the shadow of Edward's own projections. Midway through the story, Edward goes home for the funeral of an old friend and boyhood lover; this is where Hollinghurst conjures all of Edward's past in a half-dream of recollections (one of which reveals the haunting source of the book's cryptic title), and when Edward returns to Belgium for the astonishing final third of the book, the reader is finally able to look at his present rudderlessness as sequel to a past too stiflingly rich in memories. Indeed, THE FOLDING STAR seems less a meditation on erotic obsession than it does on memory and loss, all its memories of emotional and sexual awakening evoked in such beautifully spectral terms that by the end the book's real fetish seems to be the past itself -- a distinctly British, Wordsworthian past where people, hills, even stars become the repositories of memories almost too precious to express aloud. If THE SWIMMING POOL LIBRARY was a fast and shocking read, THE FOLDING STAR is thoughtful and melancholy - but I'm hard pressed to think of a late 20th century writer who depicts both the outer world and the inner life in prose as exquisite and moving as Hollinghurst
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2000
The Folding Star was, in my opinion, one of the best books I have ever read. The writing is smooth and flawless, and the everything was beautifully and carefully constructed. Despite the fact that this book is about a controversial topic, homosexuality, I believe that it should be judged by its quality, which is outstanding. What made me enjoy this book the most was the rich variety of emotions that it provoked. Happiness, anxiety, fear, love, hate; they're all in this book, and they are brought about perfectly. The ending, in particular, provokes haunting, mixed emotions that will not be forgotten simply because the book has ended.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2004
THE FOLDING STAR is a sprawling neo-Victorian achievement, full of memorable characters, breathtaking description, and graphic gay sex. At its surface the novel is the story of Edward Manners - a 40ish, drinky, and rather raunchy former academic who relocates to a small Belgian town to work as a tutor. Almost at once Edward becomes infatuated with Luc, a student. His obsession is comic, tragic, and romantic. With this as its core THE FOLDING STAR then begins to reveal a much deeper and more complex reality. The interconnectedness of various lives and histories soon begins to become apparent, with former details gaining greater significance and literary relief in this engrossing epic of obsession and taboo. This is a wonderful book though I found it a bit dry and somewhat cold...it was a book to admire rather than embrace.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 1999
Hollinghurst does a great job of putting the reader into the shoes of Mr. Manners. They are not shoes I would endeavor to walk a mile in however. I should think they are not suppossed to be. Hollinghurst picks continually on the pathetic situation and disposition of Mr. Manners. It was with great effort that I finished the novel, because I saw all of my frustrations and vulnerability in Mr. Manners.
Manners is older and smarter than his prey, and he exploits his position and wordly knowledge to attain that which should not divinely be his own. And he knows it. It is all at once a self-effacing and self-serving theme. A man who has seen his better years, trying to stoke the flames back into being. He knows he does not deserve the angelic creatures he chases, but he chases them yet. If he marries his body with them he advances his pathetic situation even if only by proxy and contact.
Is Hollinghurst embracing the plight of the modern lonely Homosexual? Is this the essence of the lonely Gay? Is some dejected creature trying to elevate his sense of self-worth by gaining acceptance from other more worthy men? Is he reaching for self-accpetance by seeing himself unioned with the manifestations of his young self? Perhaps it is this conflict that many men face and try to conquer. I know this will not be pleasing and a little to neat for most Homosexuals to embrace, but I think it warrants consideration vice an early dismissal.
All in all the novel left me feeling lonely. I had a tremendous feeling of discontent when the story had concluded. I felt the desperation of Manners and I wondered where on earth this man belonged...seemingly nowhere. I think the Novel delivers exactly what Hollinghurst intended. It is not a read for the weak of heart and don't look to be spoon fed a wonderfull little Cinderella tale where the goodness of man defeats physical beauty and finally the chubby older guy lives happily ever after with the Adonis. It ain't happening, shipmate!
Somewhere in my remarks I tried to work in how much I enjoyed and believed the gritty, all-too-real sex scenes. But I missed my mark.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2013
The book is slow but gorgeously written, and the languor fits the setting of Bruges, though you do wonder where all the tourists are at this Unesco World Site. But whatever you do, don't buy the Kindle version, which is a bad scan filled with annoying errors. Why couldn't the publisher hire someone to proof it?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2008
This is an excellent book. The writing is fluid and engaging and the storyline reveals insights into memory and the passing of time in very unexpected ways. It stays with you long after you read the last page.
I lived in the Flemish part of Belgium for a couple years and the author certainly has captured the endless rainy days, the feeling of permanence that only comes with multiple generations living in the same place, and the nuances of the culture's tension between the old and the new.
I found the book to be a bit uneven in places and in need of some ruthless editing. The frequent tangents and micro-details about the (fictional) Orst paintings were particularly distracting, for example. Had Orst actually existed, the descriptions of his work might have been interesting and relevant, but since it was all fictional, it seemed secondary (even tertiary) to the narrative. I found myself skimming over descriptions of art works that never existed.
But I still rate this book very highly. Where the writing is good, it's incredibly good. The section when the narrator returns to England is remarkably touching, and made me empathize with the narrator in ways I didn't think possible. And the last part of the book was perfect -- an ending that allows each of us to fill in our own conclusions.
This is the first Hollinghurst book I have read, and I plan to read more.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2006
THE FOLDING STAR tells the story of Edward Manners, a sentimentally detached man who leaves England to earn his living as a private language tutor in a Flemish city. The exquisite prose of this 1994 release delineates a man's aching melancholy and longing for love despite his odd sexual economy during the few years prior to his arrival in Belgium. Therefore, unlike the most recent, highly-acclaimed THE LINE OF BEAUTY, the novel affords a plot no more than Edward Manners's hypnotic fantasy of one of his young pupils. The 33-year-old seems to be at the emotional crossroad: he often smiles at his own sense of anticipation, of being poised for change, and is ready to fall in love. But he is not used to spending so much time with one person that he thinks of a committed relationship dreads him.
It might be love at first sight that no sooner has he met Luc than he takes an intimate fancy of him. The adoration quickly becomes a morbid infatuation that manifests into a pepperoni type of spying on the boy during his weekend excursion. He has no doubt driven Edward mad at times - he feels empty and is aching for him. The boy has affected everything Edward does to the point that he suffers without feeling afflicted. The stream of consciousness reflects Manners's despair over the unfulfilled love and the thumping of the heart. He can only console himself with other affairs to which no sentiment constitutes, other than the minimal trust of two people pleasuring themselves together, without much grasp of friendship or understanding.
THE FOLDING STAR is about the unrequited love that leaves a man constantly longing, without the prospect of ever finding love. The mixed feelings of anxious longing and fear of commitment constitute a poignant air that hovers over the novel. It delivers the message that the course of true love never runs straight. The reading reminds one of the similar sentimental nuances Henry James experiences in Colm Toibin's THE MASTER. While Henry James consciously makes it a habit to keep his affection at bay and secretly longs for the intimate companion of a man, Edward Manners always finds himself marveling at how his sudden burst of feeling has wrongfooted him. Both engage in a somnambulist journey to find love. The former lives in such vessel of loneliness and independence - in a social sphere that is pinned and stifled with rules. The latter leaves his home to escape the same constraints only to find himself trapped by his emotions. That his sex life has well petered out before he comes to Belgium is the impediment to his surrender to commitment.
THE FOLDING STAR is a stoic tale about the quest for love. Edward Manners lives among many gay men not only in the regard of the longing for a relationship but also in the sense of the nervousness, excitement, sensuality, and anxiety. One may think of the novel being made up of snapshots all these contradicting emotions that roam back and forth the character. It exquisitely depicts the nuances of affection, the anticipation for intimacy, and the desire of fulfillment of unconditional needs. Hollinghurst renders with artistry and haunting precision love's merging of language and lust.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2006
I was a bit more impressed with Hollinghurst's technical skills here than engaged by the actual story, which revisits aspects of Thomas Mann's DEATH IN VENICE in far more sprawling fashion.
Hollinghurst is a nearly-brilliant writer, though the very lush prose I found to be a touch distracting. But it may be entirely approriate in a tale of an infatuated, youth-worshipping tutor slowly sliding into a highly inapproriate affair with a cherubic student who ultimately turns out to be not quite as angelic as he first would seem to be.
Hollinghurst's tale poses a number of questions which are left hanging: foremost among them would be the youth-obsessiveness in Western culture generally, and gay culture specifically. One is left wondering what the dead end of such a sensibility would be, and as this ethereal and atmospheric epic winds down, that question remains in the air, with a frustrating lack of further elaboration.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 1997
The author is a master of description, the ghostly presence of memories, the melancholic city like a big canvas where the author projects his own fantasies actually shaping things and events, the past as a presence and as a subject of research, the vivid nature of eroticism nurtured more by glimpses than by real action. This book, for all its lenght, is worth every page. I can't put a finger on what kept me reading but I couldn't leave it