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Publisher's Summary

This novel centres on the friendship of William Beckwith, a young gay aristocrat who leads a life of privilege and promiscuity, and the elderly Lord Nantwich, who is searching for someone to write his biography.
©2006 Alan Hollinghurst (P)2014 Audible, Inc.
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: LGBTQ+

Critic Reviews

"West has a lot of fun with the waspishly clever dialogue, and, provided you ensure it's not overheard by listeners of delicate sensibilities, this is terrific to listen to." (Karen Robertson, The Sunday Times)

What listeners say about The Swimming Pool Library

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Strong stuff

Swimming Pool Library is beautifully written and will give you a vivid picture of the life depicted. As a straight man I endeavored to give all the gay sexuality the same distance I gave the sexuality of "straight" characters whose taste differs from mine--cf. Lolita or anything by Pynchon. But don't think you can just skim over it and get back to the plot. Gay sexuality is THE subject of this book.

Excellent reader.

10 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Offers Insight

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

It depends on the friend. This book is NOT for everyone. It graphically describes the life of a promiscuous gay man. So if the topic of homosexuality or detailed sex scenes disturb you, then steer clear. Also, black people are almost like fetish objects in this novel. Many of the upper-crust, white British men in the novel are VERY attracted to Africans. Although the wealthy men are genuinely sickened by hate crimes, they also don't quite see black people as "human" either. It's like people from Africa are viewed as some sort of enchanted, mythological creatures to be sought after and adored. I don't want to give the impression that the book centers on race relations, but some of the ways that black people are described made me feel uncomfortable. I think that Hollinghurst purposely did this to further explore the idea of what it's like to be viewed as an "other" in mainstream society.

I would recommend this book to a friend who loves beautiful writing and strong characterization. I would recommend it to a friend who enjoys thinking about things that they've never considered before. Before this novel, I never thought about how so much "homosexual history" was covered up, changed, or never recorded to begin with. Just like in Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child, the idea of what is forgotten and what is chosen to be remembered hangs heavily.

What did you like best about this story?

How it let me see the world through a new set of eyes.

What does Samuel West bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He is a fantastic narrator. All of his characters sound unique and he does a fantastic job with different dialects and accents. Perfect pacing, smooth voice, lovely narration, perfect execution of wit... I would love to hear another story read by him.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Yes, but I don't want to spoil things for you... There's a part that will stick with me for a long time.

6 people found this helpful

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  • AC
  • 12-29-11

Beautifully Written and Read

This story is about gay life. That is the heart of it. If you are offended by that (and it includes explicit sex) then this is not for you. However, what you will be missing is superb writing and an amazing debut novel which showed what a genius Hollinghurst is. All his books are marvellous, with The Line of Beauty, which won the Booker, being a very worthy winner. There is an audiobook of that which sadly Audible doesn't have but would be fantastic if they got it.

6 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Hollinghurst's first and among the best.

If you could sum up The Swimming Pool Library in three words, what would they be?

great period piece

What did you like best about this story?

Listening to it twenty years after reading it made me realize how much I had changed. It's a great description of upper class British life. Hollinghurst's lush writing is in full bloom.

What does Samuel West bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Sam West's narration makes this an good example of listening surpassing reading. His Lord Nantwich is spot on. It's Hollinghurst's ear for British language that provides such great material. Sam brings the fellow to life.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

Gay England in the late 20th century.

4 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Pointless and Plotless

I did actually listen to the whole book because I waited in hope of some twist or purpose to the story .... sadly there was none. I purchased because it won the Man Booker prize, I have to say I have no idea why.

I think as others have said this is more of a gay porn novel and as I straight person I found it over the top (probably 1/3 of the book was gay sex), I only tolerated it in the hope the story had some interesting twist around Charles Nantwich... but sadly no .. and well it just ends with no reason, although I was very happy about this in many ways.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Disturbing

Highly recommend not reading this. I tried to keep an open mind throughout most of the book, but it continually toyed closer and closer to sex with underage boys. I know in England that it's legal to have sex with young men as early as 16, but this book even crosses that boundary, and tries to paint it as fun and flippant.

I believe the author to be perverted, there is no celebration of true love between men of legal age. It relishes in perverseness. It really bothered me, and I couldn't finish the last quarter of the book. The plot sucks, by the way, and it's extremely long winded most of the time.

I actually got my money back from Audible after writing them an email explaining my issues with it. They were nice about it. Save your money and your credits, pass this one by.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Interesting but...

I kind of enjoyed it, I spent most of the time facinated by the lifestyle of the era (1970's) and the research into the days of the time before. I kept expecting their posh bubble to burst but disappointingly it is not the point of the story, then again any point would have been good. Unless the point is that posh lives are pointless.

3 people found this helpful

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A meandering journey

I enjoyed this book quite a lot. The storyline goes on without much point, but the emotion, feeling and self absorption of the main character is very interesting.

2 people found this helpful

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Was there even a story!!!???

While the book was beautifully written with vivid language and distinct characters where the hell was the plot???? There was no plot and by the end there was no resolution for any of the characters. However Samuel West did an amazing job as the narrator. He is the only reason i finished the book!

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

A Great Eulogy to Homosexual Love

Heterosexual woman that I am, I greatly enjoyed this book.
Nothing in it is offensive.
If you mind sex, erotic descriptions, and perhaps sensual pleasure altogether... this is not for you.
The writing is beautiful. The reader’s voice is SUPERB! I need to get all the books West narrates. Brilliant.
Completely devoid (I mean, COMPLETELY) of women… which is a plus, since other illustrious heterosexual writers (such as Philip Roth) make one regret being a woman. What with their objectifying fantasies and real or imagined violence against us. None of that here, for a (refreshing) change.
Thank God, this was written in 1988! Today, our young Torquemadas would make a gory show of this writer’s public execution. As it’s not exactly “woke” or “correct”… hence its beauty.
I highly recommend this Audible title.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Waggy From Derby
  • 06-27-20

fascinating book with many twists

This story is so important in gay history, having been born in 1949 I can testify to the behaviour of the police and politicians and of course the gay underworld. I wonder what life would still be like if it wasn't for the labour government passing the 1967 act that decriminalised gay sex. And of course the labour government of 2000 that repealed Magige Thatcher's 1989 clause 28 followed in 2004 by the lowering of age of consent for gay men to be the same as heterosexuals and later in 2005 giving us civil partnerships. I still hate the Tory bigots, never being able to forgive them.

28 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • common reader
  • 01-14-09

Gay lit. of the highest order

Alan Hollinghurst cleverly structures his story to provide a representation of homosexual lives over several generations. Older gay men reading this novel will recognise the signs of the changing times and, I hope, rejoice at the emergence of freedoms so abundantly enjoyed by the likes of the narrator.

I do not agree with the previous reviewer that the sex scenes are done in "the best possible taste". They are described realistically and honestly in the way that such scenes rarely are, be the fiction gay or straight. No adult should be shocked by the acts, but rather by the honesty.

Samuel West's reading is sympathetic and absorbing, though a little lacking in characterisation for a first-person narrative.

15 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-29-08

Interesting story, often tender, always funny.

Interesting story, well written, often tender, always funny. Probably not recommended for non-gay listeners (but give it a go if you're at all curious). Colourful descriptions of sexual activity, all done in the best possible taste, of course. If you listen to it in public, make sure the volume of your player is low enough (or you will get some funny looks). Excitable listeners may wish to place a briefcase or jacket on their lap if listening to it on public transport.

8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • MR
  • 09-14-12

Funny and Warming

Really enjoyed listening to this book. The characters are interesting and believable, especially Will who I think most people will be able to liken to a friend of their own. Think I have a good incite into what the gay scene was a few decades ago in middle class London. Felt a little cheated with a sudden ending, really wanted more. Other than that a really great 12 hours listening to this great story.

6 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Lucy
  • 09-20-16

Wonderful voice acting

Absolutely perfect voicing for Hollinghurst. Please do more! This book captures a beautiful part of the human condition flawlessly. I didn't want it to end.

5 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Anthony
  • 06-08-19

Terrible ending!

Really enjoyed Sam West’s incredible narration but was often bored by this book and the ending was truly abysmal! Nothing was resolved and it seemed Hollinghurst had simply run out of ideas about where to take the narrative and simply gave up

3 people found this helpful

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  • Jessica
  • 01-07-17

Exquisite

A perfect experience. Samuel West's narration is very Hollinghurstian. I love this intriguing, gripping, moving book and this brilliant performance. The sex bits are genius and so are all the little jokes.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • J. Haggerty
  • 04-16-15

Still superb after 20 years

A compelling and sexy novel which raises complex issues around clad, sexuality and race. Samuel West's narration is perfect and nothing short of stunning.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Melanie
  • 09-11-11

The sex gets tedious

I feel like I wasted a credit on this so was compelled to write a review. I'm sure it is a great novel: it seems to be well-written and is beautifully read. However, I found it hard to follow the plot or sustain interest because of the continual sex scenes, which are described in detail, and were very boring to listen to. A previous review pointed this out and I have to agree. Maybe it would be of more interest if I were a gay man but it definitely wasn't for me.

3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • ben carey
  • 10-31-19

Beautiful Literary depiction of 80’s London

I loved the author’s provocative use of rhetoric and hyperbole - a true classic. To be objective there’s certainly a lot of meaninglessness gay sex in here but the depiction feels honest, not gratuitous. I wasn’t too sold on the ending (too many unanswered questions) but that’s just me. You can’t detract from Hollinghurst’s deft, important and ambitious prose.

2 people found this helpful

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  • finnea
  • 12-31-20

Glorious! Extraordinary writing, wonderful reader

This is a truely wonderful experience --sumptuous, erotic, witty, poignant, moving and wildly funny in parts. i am not generally attracted to books about upper class Brits but this is writing of the highest order, offering insight into gay life and into the history of our cultural politics more generally. Hollinghurst writes supremely well about sex, emotion, social life, aesthetics, pornography, poetry, opera. The breadth, depth, sensitivity and command of language is just stunning.
Loved it.

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