The Line of Beauty
6 journalers for this copy...
Among its other wonders, this almost perfectly written novel, recently longlisted for the Man Booker, delineates what's arguably the most coruscating portrait of a plutocracy since Goya painted the Spanish Bourbons. To shade in the nuances of class, Hollingsworth uses plot the way it was meant to be used—not as a line of utility, but as a thematically connected sequence of events that creates its own mini-value system and symbols.The book is divided into three sections, dated 1983, 1986 and 1987. The protagonist, Nick Guest, is a James scholar in the making and a tripper in the fast gay culture of the time. The first section shows Nick moving into the Notting Hill mansion of Gerald Fedden, one of Thatcher's Tory MPs, at the request of the minister's son, Toby, Nick's all-too-straight Oxford crush. Nick becomes Toby's sister Catherine's confidante, securing his place in the house, and loses his virginity spectacularly to Leo, a black council worker. The next section jumps the reader ahead to a more sophisticated Nick. Leo has dropped out of the picture; cocaine, three-ways and another Oxford alum, the sinisterly alluring, wealthy Lebanese Wani Ouradi, have taken his place. Nick is dimly aware of running too many risks with Wani, and becomes accidentally aware that Gerald is running a few, too. Disaster comes in 1987, with a media scandal that engulfs Gerald and then entangles Nick. While Hollinghurst's story has the true feel of Jamesian drama, it is the authorial intelligence illuminating otherwise trivial pieces of story business so as to make them seem alive and mysteriously significant that gives the most pleasure. This is Nick coming home for the first and only time with the closeted Leo: "there were two front doors set side by side in the shallow recess of the porch. Leo applied himself to the right hand one, and it was one of those locks that require tender probings and tuggings, infinitesimal withdrawals, to get the key to turn." This novel has the air of a classic.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
edited om Oct 22nd as mirp wants to be left out!
I liked the writing. It was dense, beautiful and well-crafted. But, I must admit, it took me quite awhile to really get into the story - a whole three quarters of the way through! I just didn't particularly enjoy/like any of the characters. I know that’s not a reason to dislike a book, but it does make the reading more challenging sometimes.
I'm sending this off to buffra later this week.
(erm....I'll get to it. Honest!)
For anyone checking on progress, I am reading it, but it is going slowly. I'll give myself another week to put a good dent in it -- then will be passing it along. Sorry it's taking so long.
I've packaged the book up ready to go to Flanners; I'll take it to the Post Office this afternoon and send it on its way.
I've been struggling with the most hideous virus, the only good thing about it was the uninterrupted freedom to read, so I've finished this in under forty-eight hours. I thought it was breathtakingly good, easily on a par with The Swimming Pool Library, which still lingers in my memory after a single reading, eighteen years ago.
This was both a wonderful evocation of the 80s and an examination of the myriad meanings of leisure, and pleasure, trust and betrayal. The 'vulgar and unsafe' theme which runs through the text sums up the Thatcher generation in a nutshell; they weren't the people to trust with your dreams, or your secrets (and maybe not even your money). Nick Guest is like a young, dewy Waugh hero; an aesthete among boorish aristocrats, simultaneously contemptuous of their lack of finer feelings, and impressed by their indifference. And of course, yearning for their approval and acceptance. But Thatcher's Britain is a much tougher place than Brideshead, and ultimately, Nick learns the folly of his own deluded complaisance - in a thoroughly Jamesian fall from grace.
I loved the way the Wages of Sin were paid out - the gays all died, the gels were sent home or medicated and the disgraced Tory MP got a new directorship worth 80k! [Gerald's white collar and coloured shirt combinations were possibly the most vulgar and unsafe detail in the whole book.]
Hollinghurst's descriptions of beauty - whether it be of a musical passage, or the light falling on a masterful piece of architecture, or the planes and curves of a young man's body, are unsurpassable. In the section which deals with the French vacation, you can feel the heat of the sun, smell the scorched grass - taste the Pimms! The final episode in the book, when Nick returns to Kensington Park Gardens for the last time, is achingly sad, presaging a lifetime's exile from these lines of beauty.
Incidentally, I just noticed an intriguing detail; The Swimming Pool Library, Alan Hollinghurst's first novel, was dedicated to 'Nicholas Clark, 1959-1984.' Nicholas/Nick? One can't help but speculate . . .
Off to Piggledy next.