Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: The Spell
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on June 17, 2001
Alan Hollinghurst's The Spell is, first and foremost, wonderfully written. The author manages, for the most part, to effectively capture different generations (perhaps weakest on the youngest generation) far more than most writers in the gay field. I do not know that it was necessary for them all to be so specatular looking (or at least to their physical beauty to be referred to so often as a part of the narrative). It is the writing, though, that, in the end, will carry the reader through the lives of these four men as they examine and obscure their past, present and future. It is a pleasant read with a satisfying ending.
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on December 3, 2006
I am enchanted by this novel. It has everything a good tale should have. Love, flirtation, disappointment in the lives of the four main characters, suspension and denouement in their actions or passivity, a wonderful description of the environment in which these upper-middle class Englishmen move, a lovely style so full of unexpected turns of phrase and new insights for someone like me who was never attracted by drugs, life in the country or people older than me.

What however strikes me most is the absence of happenings that are typically gay. Perhaps the only true gay experience lies in the switch of Robin's persuasion from hetero husband to gay father and this must have happened twenty years ago and is not gone into in any great detail. All the other events could occur in any group of people not necessarily gay.

Danny, whose development from a flirtatious, irresponsible young thing to a person of maturity, could be Daniela; Justin, who leaves Alex for Robin, Danny's father, could be Justine; Terry, the slut, could be the village whore, Teresa. A few minor characters who move in gay circles could be the personnel of any novel. Alex's mid-life crisis which drives him to young blood, is not a particularly gay feature. Nor are the whims and predilections of the novel's characters particular to gay lifestyle.

To sum up: Alan Hollinghurst has written a masterly novel which should attract anyone whether gay or not, because it is a perfect comédie humaine.
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on July 23, 1999
Hollinghurst's third novel is very much like an eighteenth-century play or opera (think "Marriage of Figaro" or, more recently, Sondheim's "A Little Night Music") in which social mores are explored and exposed through the follies of a tight band of entwined (so to speak) characters. Like in a play, each of the four men here is given his moment in the sun, which has the wonderful effect of giving us insight into characters both sympathetic (Alex) and despicable (Justin), all of whom are revealed to have just as much humanity as all the rest of us flawed humans. Also as with a play, the "stage" of the novel is quite circumscribed: principally, gay London and Robin's country house, where a big summer party is the novel's central scene. Hollinghurst is a master craftsman when it comes to language; his first novel, "The Swimming Pool Library," was a historical tour de force, while his second, "The Folding Star," featured great scenes and compelling characters but failed to hold together, ending much too abruptly after considerable meandering. "The Spell" on the other hand is tightly constructed, a spellbinding read that I couldn't put down. Hollinghurst has taken the stale genre of the comedy of manners and created something utterly fresh and wonderful.
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on January 24, 2001
I must declare I'm not an avid literature critic - but Hollinghurst's THE SPELL is one book that is savagely hilarious and uproariously witty. It is laudable that Hollinghurst has managed to intertwine and chronicle the love-life of 4 distinctive men as a poignant paragon of the solitude and recklessness of the gay culture. I like especially the gentle and sentimental Alex - and the part of the book where he is introduced to the glitzy bar and drugs by Danny - it's been such an eye-opener. The descriptions used by Hollinghurst is haunting and imaginative - like that of his intelligent use of "the moths and birds" to mock at the characters' folly wickedly. Sardonic humour laced with irony - it's gay literature at its best. Not to mention the eroticism of Hollinghurst's description - it's instant classic. However, the book clearly shines at where loss is concerned - it's acutely realistic and savage especially where Robin lost his lover to AIDS and Alex overcoming his lost love and sense of loss. Justin, being the sarcastic and selfish wisecracker, comes off as a timely comedic relief to the already bitter situation.
Hollinghurst may not have the deeper insights on life as on his earlier books in here, but THE SPELL weaves magic in its lyrical prose which captures such rich imagination. The end of the book evokes a tinge of sadness and asperity over their convoluted life. "Some people may never know what it's like to fall in love - just like some musicians who knew nothing about music beyond their gift for making it." - Such is Hollinghurst's ingenious insight on love which is sadly rare and obliterated from other gay literature, and because of his keen observations, his work is enchanting and excruciatingly real.
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on October 4, 2015
Alex travels down to Dorset for a weekend visit to his old boyfriend Justin, who is now ensconced in an idyllic English cottage with his new lover Robin. It’s a rather daunting prospect for the rather shy and introverted Alex. Joining the three for the weekend is Robin’s son Danny. The weekend itself proves relatively uneventful, but in the months that follow the four mens’ lives become intertwined in an evolving, and sometimes revolving, relationship.

“The Spell” has the air of an Edwardian bed-hopping farce about it, although the setting is very 1980s, in the early days of clubs and club drugs. It was also a time when gay men were still largely confined to their own little world, so it’s not such an unbelievable stretch that our four main characters seem to move in circles where everyone seems to know, and often slept with, everyone else.
The characters may sound a bit shallow and self-centered, but they’re not nearly so one-dimensional. They are, at least at times, conscious of the situations they find themselves in and often display a bit of normal introspection. Like most of us, they’re just looking for someone to share their life with.

The characters are not only well drawn, but they’re described in a rather neutral fashion that allows the reader to draw their own conclusions. Different readers will identify with different characters, and it’s likely that your view of the way the various plot lines resolve themselves, or don’t, will be different than other readers.

In some ways, “The Spell” is a book of possibilities. People come into our lives, and sometimes we think they’re “the one” for us. Sometimes we’re right, and sometimes we’re wrong. Relationships between people of different ages can be difficult, but sometimes they do work out. Older doesn’t necessarily mean wiser, nor does being young automatically make someone immature. The characters in this book display all of these typically human traits.

If it’s so good, why three and a half stars? Well, while the writing is very good, the story just didn’t hit the mark in the end, for me. As discussed above, different readers will have very different reactions. Some, I know, will love it. Others, not so much.
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on August 20, 2001
My friends recommend fiction to me, and I usually tell them I don't read fiction. The exception is Alan Hollinghurst, whose books I read eagerly. Hollinghurst is one of the finest writers of our age. I can't mention enough superlatives: superb command of language, perfect understanding of human nature, marvelous wit, and--my favorite--the most artful use of sexual titillation of any writer of our generation. Hollinghurst's sexual orientation has nothing to do with his divine gift as a writer, but his homosexuality makes his subject matter fascinating. Linda Donelson
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on May 21, 1999
This novel is written so well, with such intelligence and such skill, that you find yourself somewhat surprised that it's so readable. I admit to having skipped around in "Swimming Pool Library" and "Folding Star", but this one I read straight through, literally unable to put it down. For one thing, there is humor, not the dark type which characterized his first two novels, but real humor that makes you laugh as often as you cringe. And you will cringe as these very human characters embarrass themselves, but you'll love them for doing it. Each of the four main characters presents a different variation on a theme. Each of them is eminently likeable in spite of their various failings. The book is a striking literary accomplshment as well as great entertainment. In short, a masterpiece that transcends the genre of "gay fiction" and a novel that's destined to become an instant classic.
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Unlike some reviewers of Alan Hollinghurst's The Spell who apparently prefer to rush to climax, I basked in the sheer pleasure of the author's command of the English language and ability to create kaleidoscopic, mesmerizing puzzles of the fabric of relationships. This short novel can be enjoyed on multiple levels - elegant prose describing England, a biting view of gay life in the 1990's at times acerbic and at times nostalgic, a guide to unravelling the intricacies of the webs we weave that define our public from our private selves. But with the last page closing we are left with the reassurance the savory prose is still being created...and eagerly await the author's next journey.
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This novel describes the emotional (and occasionally sexual) interplay beween four British gay men: Robin is 45 and has recently lost his long-term lover; Alex is in his late thirties; Justin is 35 and has just left Alex for Robin; and Danny, 22, Robin's son, is also gay.
The readers who found this book boring and the characters unsympathetic didn't read the same book I did. I found the situations believable and the characters quite genuine. Yes, they were a little self-absorbed but if you were mourning the loss of a loved one/relationship/your youth wouldn't you be a little self-absorbed?
The London gay scene is detailed in great relish, as is Alex's maiden trip, with Danny's help, on Ecstasy. People will be reading this book well into the future to find out what middle-class gay British life was like at the turn of the century. And Hollinghurst writes beautifully; I would rather read his prose than that of almost anyone else.
"The Spell" is something of a chamber piece so if you're looking for the thrills and action of "The Swimming Pool Library" you may well be disappointed. But a modest effort to understand the differing emotional makeup of these four men will be paid off in a first-rate round of character development and storytelling.
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on May 10, 1999
There are just some writers whom I know are excellent craftsmen, whom I just can't stand to read. I've come to the conclusion that Hollinghurst is one. When _Swimming Pool_ came out, all my friends adored it and I struggled to get through it, figuring I was missing something. Now, I had the same struggle to force myself to complete _The Spell_.
I don't exactly know what it is: his odd jumps in time and perspective (I loved it when DFW did this in _Infinite Jest_), or his muddled point of view. It is a sort of wavering omniscient point of view, and it really jarred me to suddenly find myself hearing the thoughts of a character that until now was merely shown and allowed to speak. Or maybe it was the characters themselves. I found very little about any of these people to like. Alex, arguably the main character, is likeable enough in his one or two facets -- he is observed to be "nice" and to lack a swollen ego. Danny starts off very affable and interesting and proceeds to become a fairly insufferable little egomaniac. There was nothing I liked about either Robin or Justin, and plenty that irritated me. People have criticized old Ethan Mordden for seeming to say that only incredibly attractive, fit men are interesting or engaging enough to write about. At least in Mordden's stories his characters ARE interesting and engaging. Can't say that about these guys in _The Spell_.
Nobody could say, though, that Holinghurst doesn't manipulate the language like a master. The book if full of gems. One that stands out in my mind is when both Alex and Robin are admiring Justin from the back and the author puts it: "It was love's clear thrilled focus on its object in a blurred irrelevant field." [p. 59] In context that sentence is both hilarious and devastating, but to tell more would be to give away too much of the plot.
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