The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst
In 1940, Evert Dax and David Sparsholt, two young men from very different backgrounds, meet at Oxford University. Dax is a second year student reading English, coming from a rackety upper middle class background; Sparsholt is from a humbler Midlands community and is reading engineering, a young man whose good looks and fine figure have proved highly attractive to his peers.
This time is a unique one in the history of the university: with military call-up at twenty, soon brought forward to nineteen, almost all students come up to Oxford knowing that they will only have a year or so of study. A sense of futility is mixed with one of recklessness. All life after dusk is lived under black-out, encouraging and covering what would normally be impossible liaisons. What happens to these two men in this year will affect many lives and will set in motion the mystery at the heart of The Sparsholt Affair.
Alan Hollinghurst’s masterly novel takes us through several generations and across key periods of uncertainty and change in British society. From the darkest days of the Second World War, it moves to the changing world of the a socially and sexually liberated London of the 1960s, before landing in the mid-1970s, with the three-day week, fuel shortages and power cuts. The reverberations continue through the next generation in the 1990s before reaching a conclusion in the present decade, a world of new media and new ideas.
Throughout the novel there is also an examination of the visual and aesthetic, looking at what it is to be Modern, through modernist architecture and abstract painting: we witness buildings being destroyed and replaced; we watch works of art go in and out of fashion.
Featuring a remarkable cast of characters, The Sparsholt Affair is both thought-provoking and highly entertaining, a novel in which children are connected by the acts of their parents and individuals are both damaged and saved by the changing attitudes to sexuality, privacy and intimacy.