Alan Hollinghurst: “Star Shepherd” – Culture

One can be surprised by the existence of a wonderful novel by Alan Hollinghurst which was not read in German until almost 30 years later. “Der Hirtenstern” was published in England in 1994. It has now been published by Albino Verlag in a fine translation by Joachim Bartholomew. “The Folding Star” is Hollinghurst’s second novel, after “The Pool Library”, published by Kiepenheuer & Witsch in 1992, four years after the original English version. Subsequent novels were then published in German almost simultaneously with the originals (Blessing), including Hollingerst’s most acclaimed book, the historical novel “Schönheitslinie” from 2004/05.

Obviously, the big publisher wasn’t interested in keeping up with the early work. Now, a small, adorable publishing house with a predominantly gay program has seized the opportunity. Delaying almost an entire generation also opens an opportunity to receive it.

Hollinghurst looked physically more interesting at the time, but that didn’t mask the fact that he was almost always an old-fashioned narrator.

Hirstenstern is not a side work, but a large book resting from unmistakable mastery, in many ways even more lively and modern than the more recent novels created somewhat by Hollingshurst, which narrate English social history over several generations and thus contain in some Sometimes they are made up of something. Everything in the “Hirtenstern” is new and fresh, you can see the historical difference in the everyday details – for example in the phone – but it does not have a patina. The book is poignant and funny, as well as mysterious as everything by this author.

And yes, it’s all about gay sex again. Now a separate historical consideration is due. Around 1990, the pronunciation of Hollinghurst seemed taboo because no simple comparison was made. This author talks about the sexual arousal of gay men that continually accompanies everyday life frankly and naturally as John Updike, Philip Roth, Nicholson Baker, and many other heterosexual men have done for so long: sex that is lived openly is just a part of modern everyday life. There is language for that. This has always been sensational on an individual basis, but it has not been a social scandal for long. It belongs to the poetry of the ordinary, which is the real field of the bourgeois novel.

Alan Hollinghurst: Star Shepherd. a novel. Translated from the English by Joachim Bartholomew. Albino Verlag, Berlin 2022. 620 pages, €28.

In terms of literary history, early Alan Hollinghurst stands on the threshold where this erotic realist and poetic contingency is also realized for homosexual sex, as part of ordinary everyday life which moves all readers precisely because of its naturalness. . 30 years ago, perhaps the logic and scope of this move could not have been properly assessed, because so many unusual details rushed towards heterosexual readers – while homosexuals were delighted with long chains of recognition effects.

Back then, 30 years ago, Hollinghurst sounded more interesting than he does today, obscured by the fact that he was almost always an old-fashioned narrator in the best sense of the word: he showed a middle-class Western world unfolded in many sentimental sentiments. Aspects, including Updike or John Cheever are very relevant. Inner adventures and erotic experiences, delicate and rough, begin in familiar social reality. The time for the evil class has come. On the other hand, Hollingchurst’s stylistic qualities, which Nicholson Baker paid homage to long ago, shine even more today.

Noisy small town homosexuals are still the most normal here, and strange things are found in old bourgeois families

The first-person narrator in “Shepherd’s Star” is a failed English poet who takes a break as a teacher in a small old Belgian town – that could only be Bruges. The 30-year-old educates two teenagers there and thus connects with their families. It explores the manageable gay nightlife, which is also similar to small town family life, where things are not particularly secretive, and a snapshot of everyday history is well captured.

In the middle of the novel, the narrator has to return home in 100 pages, to a small English town south of London, where a school friend, his first love, is buried after a traffic accident – before his already imminent death from AIDS is overtaken. for him. Together with all the sweet thrills of early love and first sex, this biography of narrator Edward Manners, son of a fairly successful party singer, presents a night in the woods under summer stars, including the eponymous evening star (associating English poetry with shepherds). This one hundred pages on its own, with its mixture of early childhood and farewell remembered, is a stunningly beautiful novel, and one that is as poignant as picture in picture.

But real adventures await deep in Belgium in the old town, as a cast of increasingly intriguing characters emerge behind historic facades on stagnant canals. Noisy small-town homosexuals are still the most normal, and real perversion is nurtured in old bourgeois families whose overburdened sons have to bear heavy burdens, some dating back to the Burgundian Middle Ages, others to the time of Nazi occupation and cooperation.

The descriptions of the fantasy artwork are ingenious

The retelling may be pedantic, but a few pointers are needed: A teacher’s father runs a museum of a fictional Belgian painter in the first half of the 20th century, an allegory that has some similarities to Fernand Khnov. Here again: an insight into the hidden past with slightly explicit eroticism, this time heterosexual, and a tragic end to World War II. The descriptions of the fictional artwork that Hollinghurst provides here are among the most brilliant of the thick writing.

However, the main drama of the novel is the narrator Edward’s gripping infatuation with his other pupil, seventeen-year-old Luke from the old Altidore family. This turns into a love affair of the most passionate and vulnerable type, as Hollinghurst reaches into the depths of the chests of Thomas Mann and Vladimir Nabokov, yes Proust – Tadzio, Lolita, Albertine are literary stars in the constellation-surrounded sky. Terribly woven small town. In this way, the novel, so contemporary and so precise, achieves an emotional-historical depth, an archeology of the desire of the bourgeois age. Edward, otherwise an unrestrained person, suffers from Gustav von Achenbach’s fears, along with the espionage associated with him in various ways. This love interest is at once ethereal and representational, so it has a rich poetic potential.

The book’s extensive character system offers many variations in the series between earthly and heavenly love, between rough sex and shy worship. Panic lives in showers full of metaphors that constantly fall upon the reader, to ever new amusement. Here everyone might laugh at other points, for example this, on the occasion of a night sailing experience in a dark park: “I felt so far from home and stopped for a moment to check my sex drive, how to check the oil level I checked in the car, and decided it was still good with what Enough for the time being and jogging toward the music.”

By the way, Locke, who in the end turns out to be more elusive and untouchable than initially thought, escapes from the novel. In the last few lines, he’s transformed into a picture, staring out of a research poster in a window on the gray, winter Belgian sea.

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