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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 October, 2004, 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK
Facing life as a Booker winner
By Darren Waters
BBC News Online entertainment staff

For the first time in the 36-year history of the Booker prize, the award has gone to a book with a strong gay theme, The Line of Beauty. BBC News Online speaks to the novel's author Alan Hollinghurst.
Booker prize winner Alan Hollinghurst
Hollinghurst's Booker win comes after a previous nomination

After winning the Booker prize on Tuesday night, Alan Hollinghurst recognises that his book is about to find a whole new audience.

Scores of Waterstone's and Borders stores will be clearing shelf space for the novel - because until now Hollinghurst's books have not had the widest of readerships.

Admired in literary circles, his books have a strong gay following, but they are about to fall into new hands.

But Hollinghurst hopes that his new audience will not fall into the trap of thinking of him as a "gay writer" penning "gay novels".

"I can't dispute the terms in a way. But I get depressed when people use them, as if to suggest that is the principle or only thing of interest about the books.

I am very emptied out by a book
Alan Hollinghurst
"I have always tried to write books from a gay viewpoint and with their gayness as given. And I use that to write about all sorts of things in life.

"I'm afraid the gay issue, the gay sex thing, crowds out other things in people's notice."

Headlines around the world about his Booker win illustrate his point.

"Gay novel wins British literary prize," said the New York Times while the Telegraph wrote "Gay novel wins Booker".

Startled

Of course it is difficult to discuss his books without considering the "gay issue".

His debut novel, The Swimming Pool Library, startled many with its mix of high literary bravura and graphic depictions of gay sex.

Booker nominees
The Booker prize boosts book sales for the winner and nominees
"Sex is a very interesting area of human activity - it's legitimate and important and I always write about it to some extent," he says.

"My first book was so much about someone who is living his life through his sexuality and maximising his opportunities to have as much sex as possible.

"But I don't write about gay sex so much as I used to."

When The Swimming Pool Library was published in 1988 gay life and gay sexuality was, as Hollinghurst says, "a novel subject for literary fiction in this country".

'Urgent and original'

"There seemed something urgent and original about it. Happily things have changed so much since then that I don't think it is so repressing any more.

"Other things interest me more."

The Line of Beauty is centred on a gay character, Nick Guest, but the book's "gayness" is less all-encompassing.

Perhaps that is because, as Hollinghurst himself has said, "gayness is less interesting now".

Margaret Thatcher
The Line of Beauty is set in Thatcher's Britain
The Line of Beauty is set in the Thatcher years of the 1980s and divides into three distinct parts.

"The first part is a romance, the second one is more farcical and grotesque and the third one is more tragic in nature," he says.

A part-commentary on excess and greed, Hollinghurst returns to the decade his first novel was set in.

"I do see that decade in the longer perspective now. Maybe that's why I was able to write about Aids - which I hadn't done before.

'Upsetting'

"It was a horrible and upsetting time to live through and that was one of the things that kept me going in writing the book."

After completing The Line of Beauty, Hollinghurst is now taking a pause before embarking upon his next novel.

He says: "It takes me a long time to write a book. I am also very emptied out by a book and it takes me a long time until I feel ready to write another one - usually a couple of years."

Whenever he starts to write and whatever he produces he will undoubtedly find a larger readership waiting to devour it.

Winning the Booker Prize tends to have that effect.




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