He was born on 26 May 1954 in Stroud, Gloucestershire, the only child of Rupert Hollinghurst (a bank manager) and his wife Lilian. He went to Canford School in Dorset.
He read English at Magdalen College, Oxford graduating in 1975; and subsequently took the further degree of Master of Literature (1979). While at Oxford he shared a house with Andrew Motion, and was awarded the Newdigate Prize for poetry in 1974, a year before Motion.
In the late 1970s he became a lecturer at Magdalen, and then at Somerville College and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. In 1981 he moved on to lecture at University College London, and in 1982 he joined The Times Literary Supplement and was the paper's deputy editor from 1989 to 1995.
In 1997, he went on an Asia book tour in Singapore.
Hollinghurst is openly gay. He lives in London.
His new novel, The Stranger's Child, is published in September 2011. The story follows the lives of two families from the eve of the First World War to the end of the 20th century.