Alan Hollinghurst in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhury
Rahul Nair, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2017 Blogger
Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty was revolutionary in terms of content. It tells the story of a young, gay British aristocrat in 1983, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Hollinghurst said when he had set out to write it, he had been determined not to write a boring book. Clearly he succeeded, since the novel went on to win the Man Booker Prize in 2004.
Hollinghurst believed the novel was the perfect form to capture the nuances of the British society at the time. When quizzed by Choudhary about the long narrative scenes and fidelity to detail maintained throughout the book, Hollinghurst said that he liked the idea of spreading a novel over a large expanse of time, working with multiple characters, and slowly bringing it all together.
Hollinghurst said he turned to British author Henry James for inspiration, because he was a ‘profound analyst of human behaviour.’ He admitted that he was obsessed with James and looked for ways to pay homage to him in his writing. That said, he equally tries to incorporate humour into his work. ‘I am always grateful about a book that makes me laugh.’
Technology has changed the world of writing and reading. Hollinghurst revealed that though he wrote his first four books in long-hand, his most recent novel was completely produced on a computer. As far as reading goes, Hollinghurst said he prefers not to read books digitally however. ‘I like the idea that it requires surrendering from the reader, a sense of commitment’ that comes from reading a book in physical form rather than on a screen.
Choudhary inquired why, despite his success as a novelist, Hollinghurst has never branched out into writing scripts for plays or the screen. He responded that though a lot of successful prose writers have also written for the screen, for himself, he most enjoys describing characteristics in detail, which doesn’t really work for stage and screen.
‘To be in a literary bubble would be unproductive for a novelist’, Hollinghurst stated, explaining that it is so important for a writer to have many diverse elements in their life, and not just be surrounded by other writers. Writing is all about garnering experiences in order to understand the world better, and it’s necessary to indulge in as many of it as possible. This needs to be balanced with sufficient isolation however, to get into the flow of concentration and discipline.
Hollinghurst related how he had once read that writing a novel can be divided into three parts: walking through the woods, crossing the Gobi desert, and sliding downhill in mud. He felt this expresses the wide spectrum of emotions that one experiences throughout working on a book. This was an extremely heartfelt session, during which a lot was learned, but more importantly, a lot was felt.
Photo Credit: Rajendra Kapoor