Race, empire and The Swimming-Pool Library
in Alan Hollinghurst
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This essay explores the vexed matters of race and Empire in Alan Hollinghurst's The Swimming-Pool Library, tracing the lines of connection between colonial and contemporary constructions of otherness upon which the novel dwells. In presenting the protagonist's libidinous pursuit of black sexual partners in 1980s' London as recycling some of the exploitative behaviours of colonial desire, the novel probes the possibility of opening up a critical space where an alternative rendering of race might be sourced amidst the cross-racial sexual encounters that seem driven by older, illiberal attitudes. Rather than support the view that the novel is fully complicit with familiar forms of racialisation, this essay suggests that a different, more liberal view of race relations can be glimpsed and is empowered by Hollinghurst's engagement with a counter-hegemonic tradition of gay writing that includes figures such as E. M. Forster and especially Ronald Firbank.

Alan Hollinghurst

Writing under the influence

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