About four months ago, I had the great pleasure of meeting a complete stranger who had as little a clue who I was as I did he. That stranger turned out to be the much (much, much, much) acclaimed Alan Hollinghurst. He also turned out to be leaving so our actual encounter was incredibly brief, details of which can be found here.
Having owned up to the shame of turning up to lauch of a book about an author knowing literally nothing about him, I resolved to educate myself on the work of the eponymous author. My partner ensured I made good on this by buying me a copy of The Line of Beauty for Christmas. As usual, I’m way behind the crowd on this one, but the political satire of this treatise in hedonism and conservatism certainly hasn’t expired in the interim.
Damn, I hadn’t actually prepared for that question. In fact, I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that people would ask about me at the book launch of Alan Hollinghurst: Writing Under the Influence. Thus I spent the first twenty minutes (read: first glass of wine) feeling quite the fraud: A supposed book blogger at the launch of a book about an author I’d never so much as heard of. Journalistic integrity, catholic guilt, and that glass of wine obliged me to profess my ignorance to anyone who happened to drift onto the subject. To my utter shame.
Thankfully, my partner came to the rescue by having actually read at least one of Hollinghust’s works and being able to discuss it with those who asked. As you can see in the featured image we were at a book launch of an academic review of Alan Hollinghurst’s work thus far, which I’m genuinely shocked I haven’t read as is he an incredibly acclaimed author worldwide, having once been compared to Oscar Wilde (and indeed outmatching Wilde in a review by Nicholson Baker for the London Review of Books).
The launch was held in the intimate setting of Gay’s the Word (previously mentioned here) where there was a warm welcome and a glass (or two) of wine for everyone, including this interloper. We moved ourselves toward the back of the shop where there seemed to be an opening in the crowd and found ourselves not only next to the soapbox for the introductions but also in conversation with one of the contributors to the book being launched. By the way, I hear chapter six is among the most interesting in Writing Under the Influence.
The editors, Michelle Mendelssohn and Dennis Flannery, spoke eloquently yet briefly about how they had come by the idea for writing this book on the work of Hollinghurst. I believe there was come serendipitous cliff-side yoga poses and a whole lot of magic. Then the man himself took to the stage, or rather the mic, to say a word of thanks for the honour of the praise they have offered. Hollinghurst was modest and charming in his short speech but also while mingling with those at the launch even agreeing to sign a copy of his book for his newest fan. Although some cheeky fan did grab him right as he was about to leave and ask for an autograph and a photo (see left) to which he had a witty retort but agreed to with a smile nonetheless.
The venue lent itself to the occasion with ease. Being the number one place for Lesbian and Gay literature of all varieties, there was a distinct atmosphere of inclusion allowing even the uninitiated a chance to mingle with the aspiring writers and big fans alike. Jim, the owner of Gay’s the Word poured wine and sold books, all the while laughing and joking with his customers. Dennis and Michelle, the editors, rubbed shoulders, told jokes and made everyone they spoke to laugh with advice for how to best utilise signed copies of Writing Under the Influence. In all, I was delighted to have been there to meet Alan Hollinghurst et al. and have set about finding his novels (of which, a list can be found here). Let’s hope I’ll be asked back for another launch when his next novel emerges next summer.