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Acclaimed for their fine-tuned sentencecraft, perfectly-pitched social satire, and evocative explorations of the lives of gay men, Hollinghurst's most successful novels refract the mores of a specific milieu or historical moment through the gaze of a protagonist exploring his sexuality, his class position, and his aesthetic point of view. But if a novel gains its reader's regard but not her affection, does she like it? Can elaborate structure and byzantine allusions compensate for craving characters' company or caring what happens? How good can a book be, really, if it isn't funny? Is space there to be filled? Of the questions posed and, alas, prompted by Hollinghurst's sixth novel, perhaps the most pressing is this: what do we owe to bad books by authors we love?
Lindsay Gail Gibson reviews The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst.