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The Line of Beauty

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In the summer of 1983, twenty-year-old Nick Guest moves into an attic room in the Notting Hill home of the Feddens: conservative Member of Parliament Gerald, his wealthy wife Rachel, and their two children, Toby-whom Nick had idolized at Oxford-and Catherine, highly critical of her family's assumptions and ambitions. As the boom years of the eighties unfold, Nick, an innoc In the summer of 1983, twenty-year-old Nick Guest moves into an attic room in the Notting Hill home of the Feddens: conservative Member of Parliament Gerald, his wealthy wife Rachel, and their two children, Toby-whom Nick had idolized at Oxford-and Catherine, highly critical of her family's assumptions and ambitions. As the boom years of the eighties unfold, Nick, an innocent in the world of politics and money, finds his life altered by the rising fortunes of this glamorous family. His two vividly contrasting love affairs, one with a young black clerk and one with a Lebanese millionaire, dramatize the dangers and rewards of his own private pursuit of beauty, a pursuit as compelling to Nick as the desire for power and riches among his friends. Richly textured, emotionally charged, disarmingly comic, this U.K. bestseller is a major work by one of our finest writers.


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In the summer of 1983, twenty-year-old Nick Guest moves into an attic room in the Notting Hill home of the Feddens: conservative Member of Parliament Gerald, his wealthy wife Rachel, and their two children, Toby-whom Nick had idolized at Oxford-and Catherine, highly critical of her family's assumptions and ambitions. As the boom years of the eighties unfold, Nick, an innoc In the summer of 1983, twenty-year-old Nick Guest moves into an attic room in the Notting Hill home of the Feddens: conservative Member of Parliament Gerald, his wealthy wife Rachel, and their two children, Toby-whom Nick had idolized at Oxford-and Catherine, highly critical of her family's assumptions and ambitions. As the boom years of the eighties unfold, Nick, an innocent in the world of politics and money, finds his life altered by the rising fortunes of this glamorous family. His two vividly contrasting love affairs, one with a young black clerk and one with a Lebanese millionaire, dramatize the dangers and rewards of his own private pursuit of beauty, a pursuit as compelling to Nick as the desire for power and riches among his friends. Richly textured, emotionally charged, disarmingly comic, this U.K. bestseller is a major work by one of our finest writers.

30 review for The Line of Beauty

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    I started this last night, heading home after one of the most dreadful evenings in recent memory. So lately my life does seem like a pot of thick, scalding acrid coffee; I read books in the hope that they'll help me choke it down. But for some reason everything I pick up lately's been unsatisfying, like skim milk or soy. It might take the edge off, but not nicely, and with some of this stuff I think I might be better off drinking the coffee black. That Martin Amis is like some synthetic creamer, I started this last night, heading home after one of the most dreadful evenings in recent memory. So lately my life does seem like a pot of thick, scalding acrid coffee; I read books in the hope that they'll help me choke it down. But for some reason everything I pick up lately's been unsatisfying, like skim milk or soy. It might take the edge off, but not nicely, and with some of this stuff I think I might be better off drinking the coffee black. That Martin Amis is like some synthetic creamer, with an artificial flavor that's kind of alluringly disgusting.... I keep drinking this shit because I have to. But it doesn't taste good. Anyway, riding back home half-drunk from a novelistically bad party, I opened The Line of Beauty, and started to read. I'd put this on my to-read list ages ago after pillaging a beloved professor's Amazon reviews, and reviews by terrifyingly-literate-Eric-of-the-drink-and-wide-smirk have recently pushed Hollinghurst back into my mind. This man's writing is like cream you only get at the farm. I am holding my mug underneath the cow's teat here, I guess, while Farmer Alan squirts this magical substance in. It's like smooth white gold, a dream mouthful, delicious. This coffee tastes fabulous. I could drink it all day. Maybe that's a gross metaphor, just wrong or too dumb. And yeah, I'm only fifty pages in, but seriously, he writes like a dream. It's been awhile since I've started anything that felt this good. Late last night finishing a cigarette on the fire escape, inventorying the bitter, dark, stinking thing that's my life these days, I tried to think of promising reasons to wake up in the morning, to drink literal coffee and walk out the door. And when I thought of reading more of this novel, I got really excited. Because honestly it kind of doesn't matter if your life's watery burnt crap, if you're reading something good enough, you can usually get by. I hope this book lives up to its promising opening. But even if it doesn't, I'm grateful for the feeling. Sometimes you have a bad run when no books can engage you, and you start to wonder what the point of reading is, if it's anything more than a banal time-filling hobby. Like is this any better than playing games on my cellphone? Am I not just killing time on my daily commute? I love being reminded that that's not it at all. We read to save our mouths from burning, we read to slow the ulcers. We read because we have to, because otherwise this cupful's just too rank to swallow. **** Okay, I'm done. I have accomplished little this week besides reading this book. I looked forward to commutes, took the local train instead of the express; I waited for buses and elevators when I normally would've walked, and showed up early at dinner dates so I'd have time first to read. My main impression while reading was an image of Alan Hollinghurst encountering The English Language one night on a stroll through the park. I pictured him coaxing it into some unlit shrubbery, and then gently but manfully bending The English Language over against an oak tree, sort of holding it there, unzipping his trousers, and masterfully -- generously -- turning it gay. God, these ENGLISH and their NOVELS. How do they do it? A lot of sentences in here made me feel I should stop embarrassing myself and degrading the language by writing any more sentences of my own. Of course, I used to say that about Ian McEwan, but Hollinghurst can make McEwan sort of look like a hack. Maybe McEwan should stop writing sentences too! The only reason McEwan's more famous must be because his TMI sex scenes tend not to be gay, and a lot of people really are inexplicably freaked out by gay male sex. Not this reader! The sex in the opening (and best) section of the novel conveys the thrill of first love and being young and the figuring of that stuff out with a touching accuracy that many writers have shot for but few have so successfully nailed. This is a book that would make E. M. Forster blush, not just for being too graphic for his era's sensibility, but because he might've wished he'd lived long enough to have written it. To me this was about as good as a Forster novel, which is HIGH PRAISE, FRIEND! I almost never say dumb stuff like that.... how embarrassing.... Actually I guess it's supposed to be Jamesian, as the protagonist's a James scholar/fanboy, but it's been so long since I've read James, and I've read so little, that I really don't know if this was Jamesian or not. I do think though that The Line of Beauty might've helped heal me from the ancient thwarting trauma of trying to read The Awkward Age in college, so maybe I'll give the old guy another chance... Anyway, where was I? What was I saying? Oh, I was fawning and drooling all over this book, and it was frankly pathetic. Obviously not everyone would love this as much as I did. It's a very straightforward novel set in Thatcher-era England, following the winkingly-named Nick Guest, a middle-class gay aesthete who has insinuated himself, though his friendship with an Oxford classmate, into the very wealthy household of a Tory MP. It takes place between the years 1983 and 1987, and follows Nick's relationship with the family, his romances and sexual development, his preoccupations with beauty and pleasure, and some other stuff.... You know, it's your fairly standard kind of thing, I just thought it was spectacularly well-written. The plot developments and characters were predictable and I could see how one might argue they were cliched, but somehow even this kind of worked for me, and made it seem more like an older novel, in a good way. I guess I could've done without all the drugs -- why do drugs follow me everywhere I go? I'll be reading the classiest, most seemingly together book, and all of a sudden the author pulls out a bag! -- but I guess that's what I get for picking up a novel about rich people in the eighties. There were a few things here I wasn't so crazy about. For one thing, while I must applaud Alan Hollingsworth's discovery of the adverb "illusionlessly," which truly is precious -- even priceless -- when used to describe a facial expression or tone of voice, I wish someone had told him he could only use it once. Maybe twice.... but not every thirty pages! Alan! Restrain yourself! Please! There were a couple things in here like that, overuse of certain words, and while on some I'll give him a who-knows-how-rich-people-talk-over-there-not-me pass on some (such as "longing"), the language was so gorgeous and memorable and almost perfect to me, that the exceptions glared out. Isn't this what editors are for? To count frequency of use for your favorite pet words, and make you cut down? I feel like you tend to see this problem more in short story books; it's less forgivable in a novel. Maybe I am missing some in-joke about Henry James, who used these particular words ceaselessly, and I just don't get it. Still. Oh, but I only complain because otherwise I'd melt! There were sentences in here that made me cry. As you may know, I do cry easily, but it's not usually just from sentences. There were a few in here, man.... whew. Oh boy. The other, potentially more serious thing I took issue with here was towards the end, when the book got all plotty and reached what I felt was an unnecessary and awkwardly clunky climax. I like the kind of books I can only assume Hollinghurst also likes in large part because they don't ruin themselves with plots. I'm obsessed lately with the idea that some compulsion to plot often prevents an author telling the real story. I think that happened here, somewhat. The events felt distracting from what was really going on, and just on the whole, the more that was happening the less masterfully it was handled. Nick Guest is really an incredible main character. Reading this gave me the first faint interest in rereading Gatsby for the first time since high school, because I feel like there's a joke there and I want to get it. Isn't the main character in that Nick too? Anyway, the way he makes this guy and the relationship I developed with him as the reader was just awesome in the older sense of the term. I was awed by it, really. I'm embarrassed by this review. I'm nervous about all this gushing because I don't want everyone to run out and get this and then be like, "What's your problem, Jessica? Why the fuss, psycho?" I guess a lot of this just appealed to certain of my own sensibilities. If, for instance, you are somehow not captivated by gay male sexuality, Thatcherite England, or novels about rich people, you might not love this. There! You have been warned. But seriously: you're not into that stuff? Really? How can you not be? Maybe YOU'RE the one with the problem, you ever think of that? Anyway, I'm dawdling because I'm not that excited about going to bed right now. I'm truly dreading tomorrow's commute to work for the first time this week. Where can I go from this? Middlemarch? I think it might be time. This is the first book that's really made me feel this way since the end of that affair with Proust all those many months ago, and I just can't see a rebound now with some random library pickup. I guess I'll have to try a classic, and hope for the best.... High praise again: truly, a tough book to follow.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Fabian

    It makes me angry that I don't know much about U.S. history, modern U.S. history... & British history? Fuggedaboutit! I wish I knew more about the Thatcher administration since the novel is coupled with those years as efficiently as THE HUMAN STAIN goes hand-in-hand with the Lewinski scandal. One must know how much pathos is ingrained in these particular events from not too long ago...since it adds the requisite magic to elevate them, these modern classics. It's about: gay sex & drugs, the 1980's It makes me angry that I don't know much about U.S. history, modern U.S. history... & British history? Fuggedaboutit! I wish I knew more about the Thatcher administration since the novel is coupled with those years as efficiently as THE HUMAN STAIN goes hand-in-hand with the Lewinski scandal. One must know how much pathos is ingrained in these particular events from not too long ago...since it adds the requisite magic to elevate them, these modern classics. It's about: gay sex & drugs, the 1980's & financial power. The politics do take second stage (& with grace). What's not to love? Insanely sexy and exquisitely old fashioned (it has the clout of Henry James... too, it's somewhat difficult to read, but that's why it's all the more...exquisite), THE LINE OF BEAUTY has all the best of what (American) Bret Easton Ellis has to offer in the world of risque lit., plus a more distinguished, intelligent language of its own, & a master's effortlessness with prose & form. I must say that politics aside, the story is BRIDESHEAD REVISITED 2.0. What was never shown in that particular work of British manners & bourgeois life is found nestled here. Thank god for the Modern Age!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Agnieszka

    There are many models of beauty and as old saying goes beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There is a classic definition of the line of beauty depicted by Hogarth in his work Analyse of beauty , it’s a S-shaped double curve, though for Nick, the main protagonist of Alan Hollinghurst novel, the perfect line of beauty creates delicate curve of lover’s back. Novel starts in the summer 1983 when young Nick Guest moves into the house of his friend Toby Fedden. This part breathes newness and freshn There are many models of beauty and as old saying goes beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There is a classic definition of the line of beauty depicted by Hogarth in his work Analyse of beauty , it’s a S-shaped double curve, though for Nick, the main protagonist of Alan Hollinghurst novel, the perfect line of beauty creates delicate curve of lover’s back. Novel starts in the summer 1983 when young Nick Guest moves into the house of his friend Toby Fedden. This part breathes newness and freshness, there is an expectation of love and an air of innocence though the way Nick loses his virginity is far from romanticism. Second part brings more sophisticated Nick, more fatigued in his pursuit of pleasure, rather satiated than fulfilled with love but also a new romance with not so unexpected partner. The final chapter is just overshadowed by death and sadness of recognition. I was captivated by that novel though neither the background, political and social, nor protagonists are my thing. Alan Hollinghurst’s prose is exquisite, sharp and ironic when depicts the Feddens, their friends and relatives and the whole Tory-related milieu. But we can as well sense the spirit and the mood of E.M. Forster and Evelyn Waugh here. The same story of a young man from the lower classes seduced by wealthy friends, their beautiful houses, impeccable manners, falsehood and hypocrisy lurking behind the bright facade. Though it is Henry James who provides patronage for whole story. Henry James whom Nick adores and generously quotes. Nick Guest is not all lovable figure. Hedonist, admirer of beauty and connoisseur of art. Strangely passive and unreflective, with his mouth packed with platitudes on beauty and style. Feddens’ eternal resident, somehow inept to live on its own, still loyal and attached to the family. His attitude bespeaks some kind of emptiness and indolence, emotional immaturity and his search for love and pleasure ends with desperate spasms in the fumes of alcohol and cocaine. But towards the end when Nick makes an appearance of perfect scapegoat and in an air of scandal abandons the Feddens’ house, just then, embracing all spent there years, foreboding years that were yet to come, sensing in fact his absence, only then has finally brief vision of clear beauty. 4,5/5

  4. 5 out of 5

    Hugh

    Sometimes one has to admit that one's preconceptions about a book are entirely wrong. Despite having read most of the Booker winners I had been oddly reluctant to tackle this one, partly because I had heard about its graphic descriptions of gay sex and that is just not a subject that interests me. This book confounded such baseless expectations, and the final part in particular is very moving. I can't really do justice to the book in a short review, for which I apologise. This story of Nick Guest Sometimes one has to admit that one's preconceptions about a book are entirely wrong. Despite having read most of the Booker winners I had been oddly reluctant to tackle this one, partly because I had heard about its graphic descriptions of gay sex and that is just not a subject that interests me. This book confounded such baseless expectations, and the final part in particular is very moving. I can't really do justice to the book in a short review, for which I apologise. This story of Nick Guest, a young man whose position as a lodger in the house of a Tory MP in Kensington puts him at the periphery of various powerful circles at the height of the Thatcher government in the 80s, works on many different levels. On the surface it is a study of these elites, how they operate and how ruthlessly they ditch those who no longer serve them, on another it is a gay coming of age story, in which the shadow of AIDS inevitabily looms, and a third is as a tribute to Henry James. I was struck by a paragraph where Nick is trying to justify his vision of an artistic film of a James book (The Spoils of Poynton) to a rich but philistine potential backer who has just told him that the story "kinda sucks": "'Does it...?' said Nick; and, trying to be charming, 'It's just like life, though, isn't it - maybe too like life for a ... conventional movie. It's about someone who loves things more than people. And who ends up with nothing, of course. I know it's bleak, but then I think it's probably a very bleak book, even though it's essentially a comedy.". Nick could equally be talking about the book in which he is the central character, which does contain some brilliant satire, but is ultimately rather tragic.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    3.5 stars rounded up Booker prize winner in 2004, Hollinghurst writes about the 1980s and more particularly about Thatcher’s Britain and the onset of HIV/AIDS. It is the story of Nick Guest, a young gay man from a middle class background. He meets the son (Toby) of a rising Tory MP (Gerald Fedden) at Oxford and after graduating moves in with Toby’s family as a lodger. The backdrop is London of the 1980s. Nick moves in glamorous circles and the line of beauty goes back to Hogarth’s s shaped curve i 3.5 stars rounded up Booker prize winner in 2004, Hollinghurst writes about the 1980s and more particularly about Thatcher’s Britain and the onset of HIV/AIDS. It is the story of Nick Guest, a young gay man from a middle class background. He meets the son (Toby) of a rising Tory MP (Gerald Fedden) at Oxford and after graduating moves in with Toby’s family as a lodger. The backdrop is London of the 1980s. Nick moves in glamorous circles and the line of beauty goes back to Hogarth’s s shaped curve in his book. It runs through the book via Henry James, (Nick is studying him at post-grad level) to cocaine; another beautiful line in the book and on to the concept of beauty in physical terms. For Nick this is male beauty. Against the glamour and the wealth is a political backdrop of the conservatives in power. The shadow of Thatcher is never far away as Gerald works hard to ingratiate himself and gain political power. Nick’s sexuality is also to the fore as we follow him through two relationships; with Leo who is black and working class and Wani who is very rich and Lebanese. The spectre of AIDS gradually grows as the book goes on, although it does not really affect the Fedden’s and their political circles, nor the sections of the upper class they mix with. It’s all beautifully written and Hollinghurst captures an aspect of the culture of the time very well. Nick is an amiable narrator who seems to drift through the book without being too greatly affected by it all. Inevitably comparisons have been made with other works. I can see the similarities to Brideshead Revisited, less so to Maurice. The more obvious comparison is to Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time series, but it doesn’t have the scope and depth Powell gave to his series. There was, for me, hollowness at the centre. Nick is amiable, but for me his character is summed up by an incident near the end of the book. He goes into a bar and sees someone he had a relationship with earlier in the book. This someone is gaunt, very ill, and dying of an AIDS related illness. Nick avoids him and manages to leave without being seen. He manages to drift through the lives of the Fedden’s and their circle with few moral qualms. I do remember the 80s; I was living in the north of England, mostly in working class and mining areas; the Tories and Thatcher were the enemy. It was difficult to engage with any of the characters, apart from Leo; but it does capture a place and time.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Helle

    Update: The BBC World Book Club podcast with Alan Hollinghurst, in which he talks about this novel, is available now at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csvtz0 (and I make a brief appearance with a question about 42 minutes into the programme. Just FYI). (Review below from October 2014) I wanted to savour every word in this novel. I alternately dragged out the reading experience to relish the language, and sped through sections because I felt greedy and impatient and wanted to see what linguisti Update: The BBC World Book Club podcast with Alan Hollinghurst, in which he talks about this novel, is available now at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csvtz0 (and I make a brief appearance with a question about 42 minutes into the programme. Just FYI). (Review below from October 2014) I wanted to savour every word in this novel. I alternately dragged out the reading experience to relish the language, and sped through sections because I felt greedy and impatient and wanted to see what linguistic marvels Alan Hollinghurst could produce next. The story is centered round an upper-middle class family in London, whose son of the house, Toby, has a friend, Nick, stay over at the family’s posh Kensington home - a situation that lasts longer than any of them had expected and which has consequences for all. During this same period, Nick can no longer ignore his own homosexuality and begins a guilt-ridden yet thrilling exploration of it. As in The Swimming Pool Library and the Stranger’s Child, there isn’t (in my view) much plot in The Line of Beauty. It is largely composed of scenes and situations, a satire of rich people and politicians as experienced by the protagonist Nick Guest, who indeed feels like a guest in the privileged lives he witnesses but never quite belongs to. The novel paints a picture of the 1980s and of Thatcher’s Britain as seen from the perspective of a young man, who can’t quite find his feet or a sense of purpose in life, and towards the end it also becomes a story about AIDS. That said, the story didn’t really get underway, or become interesting, to me until almost 300 pages into the book, exactly the opposite of The Stranger’s Child where I loved the first few hundred pages and then not so much the rest. Hollinghurst has the uncanny ability to turn even base, human emotions into beautiful, lyrical prose which time and again made me stop and wonder at his incredible skill. But it isn’t just the words. It is also his insight into human psychology, his knowingness when it comes to human stupidity, triumphs and pretensions, his ability to observe and name every little tic, gesture and hidden meaning which conversations in society are so full of. (Where Zadie Smith captures the characteristics of some of the conversations belonging to London’s NW, Hollinghurst captures those of the privileged classes, and these parts were amazing – a comedy of manners almost). To me, this is some of the most beautiful English prose in contemporary English literature. And yet, at the same time, there isn’t a single character that I really invested in. Especially the main character felt rather anemic to me, pathetic even, in his strange insistence on politeness without integrity, which of course sets off the shallowness of some of the other characters but still had the effect that there was no one to root for. I’m still wondering what the intended effect was exactly. Perhaps what I love most about his style is how it is the complete antithesis to the much-praised Scandinavian minimalism that I feel surrounded by (living in Denmark), and for that alone I applaud him. Hollinghurst is inspired by writers like Forster and James, whose works were written a hundred years ago or more, and even if I was not exactly bowled over by his story, there were times where I almost wanted to weep at the exquisiteness of his prose, his lines of beauty. (2-3 stars for the story, 5 stars for the language, leaving me a little above 3,5. So difficult to rate sometimes…)

  7. 4 out of 5

    Pedro

    This wasn’t my introduction to Hollinghurst’s writing. Some years ago I read his ultra-boring but brilliantly well written tome “The Stranger’s Child”. Because of that first reading experience my expectations were not exceptionally high for this one, which, we all know, can only be a good thing. And it was a good thing indeed. I finished this book feeling totally smashed by the power and beauty of Hollinghurst’s writing skills. I’m not going to go round and round in circles with this review tryi This wasn’t my introduction to Hollinghurst’s writing. Some years ago I read his ultra-boring but brilliantly well written tome “The Stranger’s Child”. Because of that first reading experience my expectations were not exceptionally high for this one, which, we all know, can only be a good thing. And it was a good thing indeed. I finished this book feeling totally smashed by the power and beauty of Hollinghurst’s writing skills. I’m not going to go round and round in circles with this review trying to convince you to read this. I know I don’t have the words in me to do this book justice. I just don’t. And perhaps no one does. The writing, the characters, the stunning imagery, the eighties, sex, love, money, power, betrayal, loss and hope. Yes, there’s definitely a line of beauty running through these pages, and beauty is not something that can be described, it has to be experienced. A strong four star read all along, boosted up to five stars because of that unforgettable ending. Stunning. I don’t usually wear a hat but if I did I’d definitely take it off to you Mr Hollinghurst.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Peter Boyle

    The Line of Beauty beat Cloud Atlas to win the 2004 Booker Prize. If it was deemed a more deserving recipient than David Mitchell's magnum opus, I thought to myself, it must be worth reading. And it is very good indeed. The story begins in 1983. Our protagonist Nick Guest moves into the Notting Hill home of Gerald Fedden MP, having befriended his son Toby at Oxford. He is given the job of keeping on eye on Catherine, Toby's unstable sister, and quickly becomes a member of the family. Coming from The Line of Beauty beat Cloud Atlas to win the 2004 Booker Prize. If it was deemed a more deserving recipient than David Mitchell's magnum opus, I thought to myself, it must be worth reading. And it is very good indeed. The story begins in 1983. Our protagonist Nick Guest moves into the Notting Hill home of Gerald Fedden MP, having befriended his son Toby at Oxford. He is given the job of keeping on eye on Catherine, Toby's unstable sister, and quickly becomes a member of the family. Coming from a much humbler background, Nick is thrilled at his induction to high society, attending lavish parties and holidaying with the Feddens at their French manoir. He also indulges in London's gay scene, losing his virginity to a Jamaican council worker and lusting after Wani Ouradi, a wealthy Lebanese associate. As the decade moves on, Nick's fortunes become entwined with that of the Feddens, and there is a nagging feeling that there may be a price to pay for this life of decadence and debauchery. I loved the book's portrayal of British life in 80s. The Conservative Party dominated the political landscape and MPs like Gerald Fedden must have believed that the good times would never end. The materialism and greed that characterized this decade is depicted brilliantly in the story. Men like Gerald can only fail upwards, while his peers vie for titles and the approval of the Lady, as Thatcher is commonly referred to. For Nick's generation, life is about the pursuit of pleasure - sex and drugs are his own particular vices. I also found the novel's depiction of the gay scene quite fascinating. Homosexuality was still quite a taboo subject back then. Nick begins his journey through an innocent lonely hearts column. As he grows more confident, he frequents bath houses and gay bars, and by the end he knows which public toilets will serve to satisfy his sexual appetite. He conducts a secret relationship with his crush Wani, who is engaged to a woman. It's all very hush-hush - for Wani there is still a sense of shame and guilt attached to being gay. And of course, the dark shadow of AIDS eventually touches their lives. If I have a small complaint, it's about the amount of drugs and sex in the book - it just becomes a little wearisome after a while. But there is still so much to enjoy here. The intelligence and wit of Hollinghurst's writing is a pleasure to behold. A dazzling and sharply observed ode to the decade of excess.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    Be Forewarned. This well-written society critique and winner of the 2004 Man Booker prize will bore the pants off you unless you are deeply interested in class struggle, gayness, politics, ethnicity, and AIDs, (the intersection of) in England in the mid-to-late 80s. Oh, and antiques. Talk about a niche! It was one of two books I brought on my 20 hour flight to Singapore, where I was planning on enjoying, at long last, some time to myself to read. About 50 pages into it, my mind cried, "Noooooo" a Be Forewarned. This well-written society critique and winner of the 2004 Man Booker prize will bore the pants off you unless you are deeply interested in class struggle, gayness, politics, ethnicity, and AIDs, (the intersection of) in England in the mid-to-late 80s. Oh, and antiques. Talk about a niche! It was one of two books I brought on my 20 hour flight to Singapore, where I was planning on enjoying, at long last, some time to myself to read. About 50 pages into it, my mind cried, "Noooooo" and I was resigned to watching the full catalog of international TV comedies (Hum Paanch, anyone?) on Singapore Airline's TV on demand. Thanks a lot, Man Booker Prize committee!

  10. 4 out of 5

    K.D. Absolutely

    Alan Hollinghurst’s prose is simply beautiful. His words make made me breathless even if his milieu is something that I am not very familiar with: London in the eighties. His prose is so beautiful that I felt that I would never be able to write a novel myself. Hollinghurst is like a god in the Olympus and I am just a mortal slave and I am not even worthy to kiss the ground he steps on. It is so beautiful, I felt like putting it at the altar stare at pray that it would inspire me to continue writ Alan Hollinghurst’s prose is simply beautiful. His words make made me breathless even if his milieu is something that I am not very familiar with: London in the eighties. His prose is so beautiful that I felt that I would never be able to write a novel myself. Hollinghurst is like a god in the Olympus and I am just a mortal slave and I am not even worthy to kiss the ground he steps on. It is so beautiful, I felt like putting it at the altar stare at pray that it would inspire me to continue writing that little novel that I have started writing after attending a novel-writing workshop three months ago. Line of Beauty is a 2004 Booker Prize-winning novel by Alan Hollinghurst. It is about gay men, most of them rich, in Thatcherite Britain in the early to mid-80’s. It is the first gay-themed book that won the Booker. Based on Wiki, the composition of the panel of judges changes every year so maybe its members were predominantly gays during that year since 2 (the other was Colm Toibin’s The Master) of the 6 finalist-books are gay-themed and this one won over the stylist – and my favorite – David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Prior to reading “Beauty”, I already read “Cloud” and “The Master” and both gave them 4 stars. I liked the brilliant structure of “Cloud” and the ethereal prose of “The Master” and they did not prepare me to the fact that there is still a better book than them and that is this Hollinghurst book. I agree with the Booker jurors. Line of Beauty is taut and cohesive. It is neither pretentious nor self-serving. It tells the story flawlessly like there is no story worth telling than those of the characters in it. The plot is focused, crystal-clear in sharpness that it is illuminating and mesmerizing. It tells the story of Nick Guest a 21-y/o virgin gay who just graduated from Oxford and is currently working on his analysis of Henry James works for his masteral degree. (Interestingly, Toibin’s finalist book, “The Master” is the retelling of the early part of Henry James’ life.) Nick is invited by his fellow Oxford graduate and secret crush, a straight man, Toby to stay in the attic of their beautiful London upper class house. Toby still lives with the rest of the Feddens: his father Gerald, mother Rachel and his bi-polar sister Catherine. What follows is the 4-5 year awakening of Nick from the naïve and almost clueless Oxford graduate to somebody who’s aware of what’s going on in his surroundings. He ends up looking at the stark realities of London’s life in the 80s: being gay and relatively poor amidst the highly materialistic and generally homophobic London upper-class society. All these punctuated by the emerging threat of AIDS that spread like wildfire in the 80’s in all countries and levels of society. It will be outright dishonesty if I say that I really liked this book because of its gay theme. The homosexual acts are just too much for my taste. However, I am not familiar with the sex lives of gay people and I don’t have any idea how frequent an average gay man gets laid or needs to get laid for him to have a sexually fulfilling life. I am not sure if Hollinghurst only wants to project an honest-to-goodness portrayal of the lives of gay men in the London in the 80’s but the language he used in this novel could be too much for some readers. It was a bit shocking for me considering that this is a Booker winner. However, if you look over this supposedly “honest” language and portrayal and focus on the prose, theme, plot and character development, you will see the beauty in the novel as a whole. I am just not sure about the metaphor of the double “S” being the so-called “line of beauty” since I have not seen – not that I am looking – a man with that curve all my life. Thanks to Angus for being my buddy read for this book. You rock, Eng-ghez!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    OK - that's it. Bored beyond belief. I think the final cincher was this description of Gerald Fedden - tory MP from the early 80s Thatcher era. Gerald came down in a dark suit with characteristic pink shirt, white collar and blue tie. He seemed to recognize, with a forgiving smile that he had set a sartorial standard the others were unlikely to recognize. Booker Prize Winner - 2004. Jeez! The writing style is dense, although there are some excellent conversations - for example between Leo and Nick OK - that's it. Bored beyond belief. I think the final cincher was this description of Gerald Fedden - tory MP from the early 80s Thatcher era. Gerald came down in a dark suit with characteristic pink shirt, white collar and blue tie. He seemed to recognize, with a forgiving smile that he had set a sartorial standard the others were unlikely to recognize. Booker Prize Winner - 2004. Jeez! The writing style is dense, although there are some excellent conversations - for example between Leo and Nick and Pete in Pete's antique shop in the Portobello Road - lots of nuanced jostling for class versus experience of life as a gay man. But at the same time - Hollinghurst is constantly packing endless markers - every single item in the Kensington Park Gardens house, or in Hawkeswood - home of Lord Kessler - is crammed into the story line, weighting it like lead. There's no plot - just incredibly stilted scenes with Lady Partridge and MPs - several Jane Austen type interiors in the first four chapters, jarringly dull conversation and Nick wandering around. Austen at least has dynamic plots. And the two girl leads - Catharine and Sophie; they are a duo Pinocchio act. Hollinghurst clearly hasn't a clue about the female psyche, or has never bothered to study girls. Try another sentence: And then there was the sheer bad taste of applying the high metaphysical language of Wagner to the banalities of bourgeois life, an absurdity Strauss seemed only intermittently aware of! Nick and Gerald are listening to a Radio 3 type commentary on a piece by Strauss - which Gerald likes and is supposed to illustrate his poor quality, flamboyant taste and meanwhile Nick argues with him in an underdog manner, using his Oxford education to poo poo Gerald's music knowledge. It's quite a funny piece - but who wants to wade through sentences like the above. I feel as if the writer - is being too careful - skillfully recreating the stiff upper class with its pompous mix of politicians and landed gentry, plus tedious Worcester grads, but failing to move the narrative along. The real story is drowned in the details of these deplorable people - we need so much less of them. I felt he wanted to make a social, or better, a political statement for his book to be taken seriously and then he slid in the topics he really wanted to write about - such as - how it is to be a gay man. There are erotic, convincing sex scenes; lots of stuff about the difficulty of young love; negotiating your way through the tricky traps of dating - this is interesting. I know Nick ends up in a relationship with the international rich boy Wani Ouradi, and we need to understand how Nick rises effortlessly into these echelons of privilege, hence the detailed social dynamics but I couldn't care about either of them. I was yawning over Wani's heavily fringed, dark eyes, and Arabic refinement; his Toy-Boy life-style - I couldn't give a toss. Perhaps Hollinghurst was attempting a Great Gatsby - a fascination with the ultra-rich sort of tale, set in 80s London. If most of the characters are tedious, you simply have a tediously dull book. I suppose the Booker panel awarded the prize on the merit of Hollinghurst's finely convoluted sentences, sophisticated vocab, and fly's eye view of the seriously rich? Or maybe they just wanted to honour the 80s; or the sub plot about AIDs? Or just a statement as to - we're very enlightened and open-minded and want to show it! Yah!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Yulia

    An unusually powerful and deserving winner of the Man Book Prize, this is one of the few books that took me over a year to read, not because it was ever boring or sluggish, but because each sentence was so beautiful, I wanted to give every passage its due attention. I rarely say such things about books, so Hollinghurst must be a magician or a hypnotist. As it took me so long to read, I spent an embarrassing amount of time repeating to people who asked me what I was reading that it was Line of Be An unusually powerful and deserving winner of the Man Book Prize, this is one of the few books that took me over a year to read, not because it was ever boring or sluggish, but because each sentence was so beautiful, I wanted to give every passage its due attention. I rarely say such things about books, so Hollinghurst must be a magician or a hypnotist. As it took me so long to read, I spent an embarrassing amount of time repeating to people who asked me what I was reading that it was Line of Beauty, about a young homosexual during Thatcher's 80s England, staying at his straight friend's home, making a life for himself after Oxford, and that they just had to read it. In fact, after I'd caught myself recommending it to him for the second or even third time, my doctor no longer asks me what I'm reading: he must think I actually don't read many books after all or that I have a secret agenda to get him to come out of the closet. My brother said it'd been done before, the story of a scholarship student in a world he doesn't belong in. But this isn't just about a middle-class boy in the rarefied world of Oxford, a servant among lords, a homosexual in a "straight" family, a liberal among conservatives, or young adults finding the harshness of reality after the college cocoon. Hollinghurst's social wit gently reveals the absurdity in each one of his characters. Hollinghurst is above all a humane and empathetic author, not a writer of British manners or a writer of gay literature. That the Booker committee awarded him their prize makes me forgive them for every horrendous mistake they've made in the years since. Sometimes, they do get it right (as they did with Coetzee).

  13. 5 out of 5

    Maxwell

    3.5 stars A really masterful novel, though not one that I'd say I always particularly enjoyed. The dragging middle was book-ended by some wonderfully flagrant and emotional moments. I especially loved how Hollinghurst was able to stir up so emotion in the final scenes. It touches on public and private selves, love, beauty, all rather grandiose themes, in a startlingly humorous and down-to-earth manner.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Zanna

    Hollinghurst's gay protagonist, Nick Guest, more or less ingenuously follows his sexual and aesthetic inclinations, which lead him, somewhat incongruously, into the house of Tory MP Gerald Fedden, the arms of a Lebanese millionaire's son, and finally personal disaster and tragedy. The thin thread that binds and shapes Nick's muddling way through his life is beauty, and his trajectory is in a way a test of its strength and worth. Hollinghurst holds up for us the thinness of beauty and the foolish Hollinghurst's gay protagonist, Nick Guest, more or less ingenuously follows his sexual and aesthetic inclinations, which lead him, somewhat incongruously, into the house of Tory MP Gerald Fedden, the arms of a Lebanese millionaire's son, and finally personal disaster and tragedy. The thin thread that binds and shapes Nick's muddling way through his life is beauty, and his trajectory is in a way a test of its strength and worth. Hollinghurst holds up for us the thinness of beauty and the foolishness of its worship, yet when Nick's ostensibly hollow collaboration with shallow, materialistic, philistine Wani comes to unexpected glorious (but limited) fruition we are invited to reconsider. Beauty is a heartless god, the book admits, but impossible to deny. And sometimes those who struggle and suffer in its service are richly rewarded... I've had a some discussions with an artist who believes that beauty is a concept that should not be applied to people at all. I said I can't deny the 'tingling in the spine' induced by beauty and she responded 'it's not anyone's purpose to make your spine tingle'. I totally agree with that - but I still can't stop my visceral response to and pleasure in beauty, whether I'm looking at a sunset or a person. The conversation prompted me to think hard about this, and to see how personal beauty being instrumentalised has a regressive effect, reinforcing hierarchies and layers of oppression. On the other hand, if beauty is visceral and inextricably related to positive identification and sympathy, we need to work hard to pull the encultured hierarchies from it. I'm thinking more now about dismantling the whiteness of beauty, the youthfulness and thinness of beauty, all of which are arbritrary and exist because they serve white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Decapitalise beauty! But I'm still working out how to frame this issue and how to reconstruct my appreciation. Here, structures of class and heterosexism pervade relationships, but Hollinghurst only offers them in the way Fitzgerald offers images of an unwholesome lifestyle he can't escape. There is little interrogation. And as in Fitzgerald, there's no redemption. The characters here are delicately drawn, never rendered without colour and shade, and Nick himself shares his creator's insight and empathy for others. I had deep sympathy for this soul, and felt a mixture of admiration and disapproval!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Roger Brunyate

      Maggie, Charlie, and the Boys The effusive press comments quoted on the cover and flyleaf of the paperback edition of Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty are totally correct in everything they actually say; they merely fail to mention one of the most important aspects of the book. Hollinghurst writes brilliantly about life among the movers and shakers of Margaret Thatcher's London in the early 1980s. His ability to portray his characters, as one critic puts it, "from just an inch to the left"   Maggie, Charlie, and the Boys The effusive press comments quoted on the cover and flyleaf of the paperback edition of Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty are totally correct in everything they actually say; they merely fail to mention one of the most important aspects of the book. Hollinghurst writes brilliantly about life among the movers and shakers of Margaret Thatcher's London in the early 1980s. His ability to portray his characters, as one critic puts it, "from just an inch to the left" of how they would see themselves is masterly, and the result is something like the portraits of Goya, a flattering likeness with just a hint of satire. Hollinghurst has perfect pitch when it comes to the social sensibilities and small hypocrisies of the well-bred. As a literary descendant of Trollope, James, and Forster, he is a well-deserved winner of the 2004 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. But none of the reviews quoted in the book mention the gay sex, which is pervasive and often explicitly physical. By portraying the narrator of the book, Nick Guest, as a gay man in an ostensibly straight world, Hollinghurst achieves an oblique angle on the people he observes, moving considerably more than an inch from the axis on which they would ideally see themselves. The glamorous life is glimpsed through a foreground that straight readers might find far from glamorous, especially when it deals with bodily interactions. Ultimately, this becomes essential to the plot, but for a long time it seems merely an authorial device. It is difficult to know whether the author sees these elements as a heightening of the sexual charge, or whether they are deliberately introduced as an antidote to romanticism, and as much an emblem of decadence as the increasingly frequent use of "charlie" (cocaine) by the narrator and his friends. Certainly, the secrecy practiced by other characters in the story who have not come out as Nick has done, does seem to point up the falsity of the world in which they cannot admit their preferences. Not that Nick needs the difference in sexuality to give him detachment. He is presented as a talented boy from a middle-class background who has made some upper-crust friends while at Oxford, so becomes a kind of permanent guest in their lives after college. [This has much in common with my own background, and it was a curious experience to find one of my own Oxbridge friends of this kind, not named but clearly identifiable, appearing as a minor character in the book!] While Nick is clearly thrilled to have been adopted into this world, he remains subtly an outsider, but with an acuteness of perception to compensate for his lack of belonging. His social position is not so very different from that of Kazuo Ishiguro's hero in the first part of When We Were Orphans —a peculiarly English awkwardness which both writers capture very well. The title, The Line of Beauty, comes from Hogarth, and refers to the particular elegance of an ogival double-curve. It is emblematic of the genuine aesthetic understanding that is Nick's most appealing quality for this particular reader; the passages talking about art, literature, and music are perceptive and beautifully written. But art is also seen as the province of the rich, who can afford it but don't necessarily appreciate it. As the book goes on, there is increasing emphasis on art objects in a mannerist or rococo phase, seen surely as symbols of decadence, where art is "just make-believe for rich people," as one of the characters says. But the phrase also stands for that fatal line of attraction that leads from one love object to another, or towards some ideal of the beautiful life, that comes crashing down on the characters' heads at the end of this social comedy which turns out to have been a tragedy after all.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Britta Böhler

    I find it difficult to rate and review this book. There are aspects I thoroughly enjoyed (the themes, the writing, the wit) and others that I disliked equally strongly: the pacing, the cliché-characters; not even the main character, Nick, come alive for me, he stayed bland and somewhat aloof. Despite these negative aspects, the book provided an insightful view on the politics of the Thatcher-years, and (more importantly for me personally) it brought back the 'beginning' of AIDS in the early and I find it difficult to rate and review this book. There are aspects I thoroughly enjoyed (the themes, the writing, the wit) and others that I disliked equally strongly: the pacing, the cliché-characters; not even the main character, Nick, come alive for me, he stayed bland and somewhat aloof. Despite these negative aspects, the book provided an insightful view on the politics of the Thatcher-years, and (more importantly for me personally) it brought back the 'beginning' of AIDS in the early and mid-eighties. I remember that time vividly, the first articles appearing in the popular press in which the new disease was dubbed 'gay-cancer' & the first of my friends getting ill and dying. For those interested in these topics the book is certainly worthwile.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Claire Fuller

    It took me a little while to get into this book, but when I did, I couldn't stop. For a little while I couldn't see what the point of the story was. The 1980s and especially Conservative politicians, and rich families weren't something that I thought interested me, but although that's the decade this book is set in, and that's the backdrop to what happens, it isn't about that at all. It's about thinking that you are accepted and welcomed, and then suddenly those that you thought loved you, turni It took me a little while to get into this book, but when I did, I couldn't stop. For a little while I couldn't see what the point of the story was. The 1980s and especially Conservative politicians, and rich families weren't something that I thought interested me, but although that's the decade this book is set in, and that's the backdrop to what happens, it isn't about that at all. It's about thinking that you are accepted and welcomed, and then suddenly those that you thought loved you, turning and suddenly you can see them for what they are. Hollinghurst's language is beautiful - nearly every line is a treat - and his writing so subtle that he lets the reader work things out all by themselves. Wonderful stuff. www.clairefuller.co.uk

  18. 4 out of 5

    David

    The gay Great Gatsby in Thacher's England. Also, the best book I've read in years.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Giulia

    DNF at about pg 228. The Line of Beauty is actually the first book I don't finish. It is a bittersweet feeling, but I am quite happy with my decision and I feel absolutely relieved. I always pressure myself to finish the book even if I don't like it and such. However, I don't think that is the best approach to reading. We should be able to do what we want to do. We don't like a book and don't want to reach the end? Fine. Do we want to push ourselves till the last page? Do it. There are so many book DNF at about pg 228. The Line of Beauty is actually the first book I don't finish. It is a bittersweet feeling, but I am quite happy with my decision and I feel absolutely relieved. I always pressure myself to finish the book even if I don't like it and such. However, I don't think that is the best approach to reading. We should be able to do what we want to do. We don't like a book and don't want to reach the end? Fine. Do we want to push ourselves till the last page? Do it. There are so many books and so little time, right? Let's not waste time on books that are not worth our time. For different and subjective reasons, obviously. This is coming from me, who never managed to stop herself from finish a book. This book, at the beginning, really took my interest. I was interested in the characters' background and the story was not something I had read before. I liked it and I was eager to continue. Then, I paused my reading because of uni exams. A few weeks later I dread re-opening the book. I started and finished other ones, I even called my library to postpone the date where I should have brought it back. I felt guilty. And, in some way, I still feel guilty. I feel like I should apologize to the author, to the characters, to the story and to the physical book itself. But, then, I think about all the readers and all the books out there and I realize how small of a difference I make. Yes, I personally would have liked to finish it but I couldn't bring myself to do it. No one will notice, only me, myself and I. I am the only one who is judging my DNF. I am the only one who reads my books, no one else does it for me. I should (and have to) do what it feels right to do for myself at the moment. And do not finish this book this time, maybe it'll be for another time. I just didn't feel a connection right now. If you read my long rant, thank you and I am wondering if you have ever felt the same pressure over yourself too. Is it difficult for you to DNF or not?

  20. 5 out of 5

    Shanley

    Finally finished... the plot started to pick up -or rather, the author found the plot- in the last third of the book or so, but that was 300+ pages in. Painful. The writing was supposed to by lyrical and graceful, but it was just long-winded and poorly executed. For beautiful prose, this book tries but does not hit the mark. The author needed a better editor, one who loves the delete key. It may be because I have been reading this book sporadically over the past year or more, but at the end of t Finally finished... the plot started to pick up -or rather, the author found the plot- in the last third of the book or so, but that was 300+ pages in. Painful. The writing was supposed to by lyrical and graceful, but it was just long-winded and poorly executed. For beautiful prose, this book tries but does not hit the mark. The author needed a better editor, one who loves the delete key. It may be because I have been reading this book sporadically over the past year or more, but at the end of the story there were just too many characters and too much personal history to keep track of, and the story lost some of its effect because I couldn't remember who people were or why something was significant. I have no idea why this book won the Man Booker prize. The judging committee must have been horny (there's a good gay sex scene) or high (a lot of cocaine consumed throughout the book). ... Having a tough time getting through this one. The writing isn't speaking to me, the story is disjointed and the characters don't seem real enough to me. Finishing this book is like forcing down the rest of the vegetables you don't like. Going slowly and in short spurts.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Julie Christine

    I'm mixed on this one. The characters are beautifully crafted, the era (1980s London) is brilliantly captured and the story well told-with a twist that changes the languid to the anguished. It was all very Henry James and I mean that with the greatest respect. I think what I struggled with is the utter depravity and despicability of these people- the pointlessness of their privileged, selfish lives. The sex wasn't shocking but it did get tiresome- I'd rather have learned more about the families. I'm mixed on this one. The characters are beautifully crafted, the era (1980s London) is brilliantly captured and the story well told-with a twist that changes the languid to the anguished. It was all very Henry James and I mean that with the greatest respect. I think what I struggled with is the utter depravity and despicability of these people- the pointlessness of their privileged, selfish lives. The sex wasn't shocking but it did get tiresome- I'd rather have learned more about the families. But all in all a fascinating return to the gay sexual revolution of the early 80s, the advent of AIDS, the cocaine-sniffing greed of the Thatcher era and the beginning of the end of a political career.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Brad

    2004. Another Booker Prize Winner I liked but couldn't love. Another year when the winner was less impressive than those it beat. And now it is 2011 and Alan Hollinghurst's new book The Stranger's Child has been long listed for this year's prize and already he's the bookmakers' pick to win. He probably will, and maybe this time he'll deserve it. That's not fair of me, though. It's not like The Line of Beauty was a bad book. I enjoyed it well enough. The characters were engaging (I especially liked 2004. Another Booker Prize Winner I liked but couldn't love. Another year when the winner was less impressive than those it beat. And now it is 2011 and Alan Hollinghurst's new book The Stranger's Child has been long listed for this year's prize and already he's the bookmakers' pick to win. He probably will, and maybe this time he'll deserve it. That's not fair of me, though. It's not like The Line of Beauty was a bad book. I enjoyed it well enough. The characters were engaging (I especially liked Catherine). Hollinghurst was fairly honest about his debt to Evelyn Waugh and others. It dealt with one of my favourite themes -- homosexuality -- in an honest and welcoming manner with minimum nostalgia. And I am always a sucker for the eighties, having been a teen myself at the time. But even with all of those positives, The Line of Beauty never transcended the better than average for me. I had trouble caring about the Feddens (except Catherine), and I didn't give a damn about their troubles. I spent much of the time wishing I was rereading Brideshead Revisited -- another book, oddly enough, that I find only better than average (there is much better Waugh to read) -- and wondering who the BBC was going to cast when they got around to making the book (which they did, as I knew they would). But worst of all, I never really liked Nick. I found him pathetic, to be honest, and even though I felt that Hollinghurst purposely presented him as unsympathetic, I couldn't make myself go along for the ride. Oh well, even if I couldn't love it, I did like it. I recommend it to anyone who likes quality writing, gender studies, books about the English upper crust, or a literary quality beach read. Still, I hope Hollinghurst's new one is better. His reputation has, so far, eclipsed his output -- at least for me.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Robert Dunbar

    Frustrated by his first brush with romance, Nick Guest feels he’s been “swept to the brink of some new promise.” The moment is profoundly poignant. Though The Line of Beauty runs through a period scarcely more than twenty-five years in the past, time already seems to have rendered Margaret Thatcher’s England as misty and distant as something out of Brideshead Revisited. Could the world really have changed this much so quickly? That misty quality is deceptive. In this penetrating and mature work, Frustrated by his first brush with romance, Nick Guest feels he’s been “swept to the brink of some new promise.” The moment is profoundly poignant. Though The Line of Beauty runs through a period scarcely more than twenty-five years in the past, time already seems to have rendered Margaret Thatcher’s England as misty and distant as something out of Brideshead Revisited. Could the world really have changed this much so quickly? That misty quality is deceptive. In this penetrating and mature work, Alan Hollinghurst employs a hard, sharp wit to delineate the sort of moral bankruptcy that attended the early days of the HIV pandemic, and as in Hollinghurst’s The Swimming Pool Library, the contrast between the rather savage tale and his complex and contemplative style proves riveting. At Oxford, the youthful main character obsesses over a friend from a prosperous background. Visiting their home, Nick finds himself seduced by the pleasures of wealth and yearns to “steep himself in the difficult romance of the family.” Someone should really have warned him to be careful what he wished for. He becomes a chronic houseguest, and his initiation into the world of erotic love (for which he’s “achingly ready and completely unprepared”) is concomitant with his passage through a realm of privilege and prejudice. As in all his work, the author adroitly steers the tone through the rockiest personal drama to social satire of the most harrowing variety. Along the way, he veers into a veritable tour of British literary icons from Austin to Waugh – with an especially satisfying journey through the heart of Henry James territory – without ever diminishing the impact of his own remarkable voice.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    I believe I might have read this when it first came out (or maybe I am remembering the BBC adaptation), but if anything, the decade since its publication has only enriched the experience even more. A 'Brideshead Revisited' for the Thatcher era, it contains some of the most exquisite prose in a modern book. Having been more than a little disappointed in the most recent Booker Prize recipients, it is nice to read something truly worthy of that honor. I am going to have to go back and read Hollings I believe I might have read this when it first came out (or maybe I am remembering the BBC adaptation), but if anything, the decade since its publication has only enriched the experience even more. A 'Brideshead Revisited' for the Thatcher era, it contains some of the most exquisite prose in a modern book. Having been more than a little disappointed in the most recent Booker Prize recipients, it is nice to read something truly worthy of that honor. I am going to have to go back and read Hollingshurst's other novels now. PS...after finishing this, I did go back and re-watch the BBC adaptation...even though it is pretty good in its own right, it is not nearly as good as the book (but then, few film versions are)... particularly interesting in containing the first major roles for both Dan Stevens and Hayley Atwell!)

  25. 4 out of 5

    Luís

    The author tells the story of the London life of the 1980s seen by the eyes of Nick Guest, a young man seduced by the discovery of homosexuality and luxury of experience in the English high society under Margaret Thatcher. Settled in a politician, Nick leads a life of a parasite. He is the lover of the son of a Lebanese magnate, full of ace, drugged with cocaine. He has a comfortable experience. All the "shots" of the queer milieu described without false modesty. AIDS casts a dark note towards t The author tells the story of the London life of the 1980s seen by the eyes of Nick Guest, a young man seduced by the discovery of homosexuality and luxury of experience in the English high society under Margaret Thatcher. Settled in a politician, Nick leads a life of a parasite. He is the lover of the son of a Lebanese magnate, full of ace, drugged with cocaine. He has a comfortable experience. All the "shots" of the queer milieu described without false modesty. AIDS casts a dark note towards the end of the story, with its share of suffering and betrayal gaining centre stage, while the trap of intrigue put in place.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    Excellent in every respect. Reading this, I often felt to be in masterly hands: Hollinghurst has that completeness of play, that perfect union of the dramatic and the psychological. He does the scenic work of artfully describing characters' interplay of gestures and tones and tics, but is just as adept amidst the impalpables of sensibility, where the motives for their gestures and tones and tics are found to lie. Hollinghurst has superb senses for texture, heft, sound, movement. The old James ad Excellent in every respect. Reading this, I often felt to be in masterly hands: Hollinghurst has that completeness of play, that perfect union of the dramatic and the psychological. He does the scenic work of artfully describing characters' interplay of gestures and tones and tics, but is just as adept amidst the impalpables of sensibility, where the motives for their gestures and tones and tics are found to lie. Hollinghurst has superb senses for texture, heft, sound, movement. The old James advice to be one "on whom nothing is lost" remains central. My one quibble is with the plotting, and with the various burdens of plot-advancement each character must bear. The scandalous denouement, the shameful secret-spilling that wraps up the book, is brought about by Catherine, the sister of Nick's undergrad crush Toby. Toby is the predictable Hetero Golden Boy Athlete, dull and style-less and unconscious of his allure, but Catherine is worse--Hollinghurst is lazy, or seems to be at a loss, and just opts to make her a typical Hysterical Female, a manic-depressive Poor Little Rich Girl who does drugs, makes impertinent comments at the dinner table, and dates roguish unsuitables to shock her parents. Nick, and his lovers Leo and Wani are so much more complex creations, and so much more important to the book, that it didn't bother me that Catherine was so banal and badly done--just as long as she was irrelevant. But then Hollinghurst uses her to bring about the big stuff at the end--she does something so much more malicious and deranged than anything she's done before. Her behavior is so implausible because Hollinghurst has given us no sense of what deep issues with her father and family would have made her act as she does. One can't skimp on the psychology of a character if that psychology is what turns the plot of the novel. The book could have gotten along without so much of the Feddens, really. They provide the frame, the setting, and their small bag of traits and attitudes are sufficiently well shuffled and deployed as to make convincing characters--but Hollinghurst didn't really need to shift his focus back to them at the end. Wani's downward spiral, and Leo's death, are absorbing and heartbreaking enough. When I think of Leo on his bike I almost cry.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Blair

    This was a thought-provoking, haunting read that has stayed with me quite lucidly since I finished it. The narrative is so powerful that I was able to picture much of the story as clearly as if I had actually witnessed it all taking place, and several of the more disturbing scenes were so real to me that they stuck in my head in graphic detail, as if they were horribly memorable scenes from a film, for days afterwards. I loved the innovative, inspiring description (a favourite line: 'Sally Tippe This was a thought-provoking, haunting read that has stayed with me quite lucidly since I finished it. The narrative is so powerful that I was able to picture much of the story as clearly as if I had actually witnessed it all taking place, and several of the more disturbing scenes were so real to me that they stuck in my head in graphic detail, as if they were horribly memorable scenes from a film, for days afterwards. I loved the innovative, inspiring description (a favourite line: 'Sally Tipper had a lot of blonde hair in expensive confusion') and the development of the characters was masterful - in particular, Wani's physical deterioration was so vividly depicted, and all the more powerful for being detailed more through others' reactions than by direct description. All in all, I admired the novel tremendously - Hollinghurst's use of language is astounding - but I often wasn't sure whether I was actually enjoying it or not, and I don't think it's one I could read again. I don't think I liked Nick much and I'm still not sure whether or not I was supposed to; and after finishing the book I felt empty and desolate. I suppose the point of the ending was that the characters got their comeuppance for the lives of pointless excess and waste they had led, but this wasn't placed in context, there was no voice of social conscience and no political challenge to the Feddens' strident Conservatism (apart from the occasional half-hearted objections of Catherine, but given her position in the family these didn't seem designed to be taken seriously). Although Nick is portrayed as an outsider to the family, I felt like an outsider to the whole world the book described; there was no character to provide the 'voice of the reader' and I really felt the story needed one. A beautifully written novel, but ultimately depressing and unsettling.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    I enjoyed this enormously. Hollinghurst is a great stylist and his debt to Henry James, suggested throughout (the protagonist is writing a thesis on 'The Master'), is always evident. Best of all is his subtle but uncompromising social satire: few of the characteres are particularly sympathetic but all are energetically realised and very believable. There are some terrific set-pieces: an aristocratic twenty-first birthday, awkward introductions of gay lovers to parents who don't know (or won't ad I enjoyed this enormously. Hollinghurst is a great stylist and his debt to Henry James, suggested throughout (the protagonist is writing a thesis on 'The Master'), is always evident. Best of all is his subtle but uncompromising social satire: few of the characteres are particularly sympathetic but all are energetically realised and very believable. There are some terrific set-pieces: an aristocratic twenty-first birthday, awkward introductions of gay lovers to parents who don't know (or won't admit)their son's sexuality, a London MP's unease on visiting his rural constituency and on having to take part in welly-throwing. 'The Line Of Beauty' paints a compelling picture of privileged life in 80s England -- but the privilege is precarious. Considering AIDS, the boom in cocaine use, and parlimentary scandal, this is nonetheless much more than mere social documentation. At times I felt the symbolism suggested by the title became a bit strained and occasionally I had the sense that Hollinghurst was overindulging in his ornate style. These are minor quibbles, however, about a book I was often reluctant to put down.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    If Henry James could brave one more curtain call, he'd find a more encouraging audience than the one that booed him off stage after "Guy Domville." James has become something of a literary rock star this year. He's the subject of fictional biographies by two of the British Isles' most prominent writers, Colm Tóibin and David Lodge. And his spirit hovers all over last week's Man Booker Prize winner, "The Line of Beauty," by Alan Hollinghurst. Can the reality TV show - "Serve Tea to Henry" - be fa If Henry James could brave one more curtain call, he'd find a more encouraging audience than the one that booed him off stage after "Guy Domville." James has become something of a literary rock star this year. He's the subject of fictional biographies by two of the British Isles' most prominent writers, Colm Tóibin and David Lodge. And his spirit hovers all over last week's Man Booker Prize winner, "The Line of Beauty," by Alan Hollinghurst. Can the reality TV show - "Serve Tea to Henry" - be far behind? Despite its glacial pacing and cerebral themes, Tóibin's novel, "The Master," climbed onto the American bestseller list for a few weeks this summer, looking a little uncomfortable next to Janet Evanovich's "Ten Big Ones" and Plum Sykes's "Bergdorf Blondes." The Booker Prize ($90,000) will propel "The Line of Beauty" up the list too, as it's already done in England, and that popular exposure will be interesting to evaluate. Line for line, Hollinghurst's novel about London during the 1980s is the most exquisitely written book I've read in years. Witty observations about politics, society, and family open like little revelations on every page. But it's also an explicitly gay novel. Not just a novel with some gay characters, comfortably on the side or reduced to floppy antics, à la "Will and Grace." Hollinghurst rarely strays far from his protagonist's sexual fantasies and exploits. British papers have noted that this is the first gay novel to win the Booker Prize in its 36-year history. (So much for their cosmopolitan sophistication: America's National Book Award went to an equally explicit gay book way back in 1992, an autobiography called "Becoming a Man.") Some critics have played up the novel's political and social satire, and those elements are certainly there and brilliant, but I wonder if it's squeamishness or political correctness that keeps them from stating that this is primarily a story about gay sexuality and it contains scenes that many readers will find deeply offensive. The novel opens in 1983 when Nick Guest, a graduate student pursuing a PhD on Henry James, moves in with the Feddens, an upper-class family in London's Notting Hill. Nick is an old Oxford chum of the family's oblivious son, and he's become the unofficial caretaker of their dangerously depressed daughter. The parents are wealthy conservatives who want to be perfectly clear that they have no objection to Nick's orientation, particularly if it remains entirely theoretical. Nick, however, is ready to move beyond that, and the first section of the novel details his first date, an assignation with a black man he meets for sex through a personal ad. Their relationship deepens into something more meaningful, drawing Nick into the working-class life of his lover even while he floats into the lavish lifestyle of his host family: As a member of Margaret Thatcher's cabinet, Mr. Fedden gives Nick access to the highest level of British politics, and Mrs. Fedden comes from a family of people who exchange Gauguins as gifts. It's the kind of crowd in which everyone is constantly aware of the flourishes of wealth but determined to treat them with casual disregard. When the piano tuner complains about the state of their instrument, Mrs. Fedden remarks quietly, "Oh, I know Liszt enjoyed playing it." Through much of the book, his host family frets about when Mrs. Thatcher will bless them with an appearance. (Their green door must be painted blue, lest The Great Lady assume they're environmentalists.) Hollinghurst can produce inane social banter as well as incisive social analysis. These are parties where "after pudding, the ladies withdraw," gatherings with which most readers will not have much personal familiarity. But he describes them with witty precision that captures and satirizes them simultaneously. When the story picks up again in 1986, Nick is still living with his host family, but he's moved on from his first lover to a Lebanese millionaire who's engaged to be married. Ostensibly, they're movie producers, but mostly they watch pornography, pick up young men, and snort cocaine (a different "line of beauty"). Nick has a vague sense that this isn't a satisfying way to live, but he's mesmerized by the glare of so much money and sensualism and terrified by the prospect of loneliness. He can't shake the sense that he's only playacting, that his ambiguous status in the Feddens' house and in his lover's life is symptomatic of some deeper failure to be an adult. Again and again, he feels outside himself, nervous about how he must look and sound. That cramped self-consciousness complements his obsession with aesthetics, but it also makes him effete and in the end not a very effective friend to himself or those he loves. As AIDS ravages the gay community and scandal rocks the Fedden household, Nick finds himself as abandoned as he ever feared, and the compensation of beauty seems heartbreakingly tragic. Ironically, despite all its graphic sex, a Puritanical piety seems to animate the novel. Rather than challenge any mainstream prejudices about homosexuals, "The Line of Beauty" confirms them. The most socially conservative reader won't be surprised to see here that gay men are emotionally oversensitive, sexually voracious, desperately lonely, and finally doomed. These are, after all, the stereotypes that homosexuals have labored under for years. All this should produce a complex reception for the Booker winner. In some quarters, the novel's triumph will be a late vindication for gay literature. Others will fret over the shocking sex scenes. But anyone who reads "The Line of Beauty" will come face to face with one of the most brilliant stylists and perceptive novelists writing today. http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/1026/p1...

  30. 4 out of 5

    John

    Nick Guest a young Oxford graduate becomes a guest of his friend Toby Fedden. The Feddens are a wealthy family. Gerald an MP, his wife Rachel and Catherine the sister of Toby. Nick is a homosexual and the story is of his journey coming out and experiences starting with Leo a Jamaican he meets through a lonely heart ad. Nick is a snob and quite unlikeable as a character who becomes part of the family. Catherine suffers from depression, Gerald is a typical Tory MP of the 80s in the Thatcher govern Nick Guest a young Oxford graduate becomes a guest of his friend Toby Fedden. The Feddens are a wealthy family. Gerald an MP, his wife Rachel and Catherine the sister of Toby. Nick is a homosexual and the story is of his journey coming out and experiences starting with Leo a Jamaican he meets through a lonely heart ad. Nick is a snob and quite unlikeable as a character who becomes part of the family. Catherine suffers from depression, Gerald is a typical Tory MP of the 80s in the Thatcher government. He reminds me of that great Spitting Image sketch where a waiter asks her what would she like from the menu. She says steak. He then asks and the vegetables. She looks around the table at her Ministers and responds they will have steak as well. Gerald definitely fits in the mould. The story is beautifully written and first covers the a period in London, a trip to France to the Fedden’s holiday home and then back to London. Nick meets Wani who employs him in many ways. The novel talks of the Aids epidemic, drugs, corruption in government, betrayal and while satirical it is a biting satire. A good read with memorable characters hiding behind their facades their true selves. It lays bare the ruthless 1980s with the power and riches of a greedy elite. Nick skirts on the outside obsessed with beauty and what that constitutes.

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