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The line of beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
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The line of beauty (original 2004; edition 2005)

by Alan Hollinghurst

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Member:ablachly
Title:The line of beauty
Authors:Alan Hollinghurst
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Tags:fiction, booker prize, book club

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The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (2004)

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Original post at Book Rhapsody.

***

Not quite a eulogy

I’ve been thinking lately about AIDS, so instead of just wallowing in musings, I decided to write something about this novel. I read it almost a year ago with one of my friends at our book club. At first, I didn’t realize that there’s anything gay in this novel. Not even the blurb at the back page of my copy winks at it, so I was surprised when graphic male sex was narrated at the early parts of the novel.

The novel is set during the turn of the decade, the 80s, the years that ushered the AIDS crisis. So yes, it is a grand statement about the male homosexual and AIDS that is propped against a political backdrop laced with upper-class hypocrisy, self-destruction, and the pursuit of beauty, material and innate.

Partying, snorting, fucking, politicking: these four fill most of the pages of the book. If one is shocked by the language where arse-licker and cocksucker belong, he might just hurl this toward the trash bin. But one can hardly do that, because one can hardly ignore the careful construction of the author’s sentences. If one loves style, he will be very much rewarded with this.

She seemed to settle comfortably on that, but only said, “My father’s got tons of Henry James. I think he calls him the Master.”

“Some of us do,” said Nick. He blinked with the exalted humility of a devotee and sawed off a square of brown meat.

“Art makes life: wasn’t that his motto? My father often quotes that.”

“It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance, for our consideration and application of these things, and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process,” said Nick.


Nick Guest, our protagonist, is taking up his doctorate on Henry James. That’s quite a coincidence since this novel was pitted against Colm Toibin’s The Master, a novel about Henry James. Another coincidence, which is more contrived, is the last name of Nick: he’s an indefinite guest of the Feddens, an upper-class family that connects him to them by being college classmates, and then friends, with the eldest son, Toby, and by being the balm of the bipolar flares of the only daughter, Catherine.

Nick acts both as an intruder and a stranger during his stay with the family, the former by observing the rich families, their ways and their privileges, and the latter by feeling a sort of resentment for his own middle-class roots. Perhaps he also resents these rich people, but he doesn’t show it since he is having the time of his life: the youthful age of the 20s, the promises made to a fresh graduate, the reputation of being an aesthete in his own right, and the discovery of the sprawling homosexual scene at the metropolitan undergrowth.

He also somehow gets to be boyfriends with the millionaire heir Wani, a discreet homosexual who hates homosexuals. Together, they line up all the coke that they want until blood spurts out of their noses and pick up random hot men from public pools to political parties, someone to fulfill their fantasies, particularly Wani’s, of pornographic threesomes.

To do these, Wani has to make an excuse for the time he spends with Nick. He sets up his magazine, Ogee, an allusion to the line of beauty, a lazy elongated S that reminds Nick of the silhouette created by the back of a lover. It could be Wani, or it could also be another lover like the ex Leo, but given their promiscuity, does it even matter whose lower back and buttocks they are?

So Wani hires Nick as the editorial consultant. The magazine is soon born, but it doesn’t live long. In fact, Ogee will only be one issue old. Because soon, Wani will die of AIDS. Leo also died of it, just some time earlier. And Nick? I can’t recall if he got positive, and if he didn’t, he sure is one lucky man.

I always thought that you can’t reason your way out if you get AIDS due to unprotected sex. If one can buy grams and grams of coke, perhaps boxes and boxes of condoms could also be bought, yes? Not that it’s the only way to protect yourself, but the attempt to protect oneself is there. So I didn’t feel any sympathy for Leo and Wani, especially Wani. But I think I might have a little for Nick, if he did contract AIDS, only because I feel that I know him more than the others.

And this acquaintanceship, this sort of friendship, is just what it takes for me to shift my views on homosexual people getting AIDS. It’s different when you know the people getting it and dying due to the complications associated with it. This I have proven for myself when a few days back, one of our friends died. He wasn’t even a big whore, or a slut as Wani sometimes calls Nick, and the annoying thing is that one random encounter about three years ago, that one rare time when he got through it unprotected, is probably what did it.

And he only found this horrible thing chipping slowly at his immune system a few months back. A fever and cough that won’t let him go suggested an HIV test. So Nick, if ever he didn’t get positive, and I’m quite sure now that he didn’t, has a chance to redeem himself from the sleaze that he lived through for half the decade. It’s a terribly short time to have people you have loved at different points of your life plucked out of your life one by one.

AIDS has been around for a while, and it’s only now that I truly felt that it is real. It is tragic, but there’s something strangely, vaguely beautiful in it. So cheers to our friend. I can never write the right words, if ever they exist, to somehow ease the pain brought by this loss, but yes, we had wonderful times and memories together. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
Like others I was drawn to this book because it was a Man Booker Prize winner as well as being on the '1001 books before you die' list and quite frankly like most of the books on both lists this was something of a disappointment, OK but failed to really grip me.

The book is set in 1980's Thatcher's London where a young Nick Guest (apt surname) is living with the family of an Oxford Uni friend Toby Fedden. Toby's mother is from a titled family and his father is an ambitious Tory MP. Nick's own father is an antique dealer who often visits the country house of various gentry so Nick is over the moon to find himself living with beautiful furniture, paintings etc and with the Fedden's lives a lifestyle that he could only previously dream about culminating with a dance with the Iron Lady herself. Unfortunately most of the people around Nick are shallow and self obsessed and not particularly 'beautiful'. However, he is blinded to this by his surroundings. Nick is obsessed with the author Henry James and also gay,has various sexual relationships often fueled by cocaine, casual and long term, which also means the fairly new threat of AIDS is also never far away. Nick is not really promiscuous though merely secretive.Nick's life seems idyllic until the Toby's father's morals both in business and personal are exposed by the press and Nick's own relationship with the family collapses.

There is an interesting juxtaposition between the beautiful object d'art and the sleazy immoral lives of the characters which smacks of a certain irony but at times I feel that Hollinghurst overly stresses this point almost to ad nauseum. I enjoyed the author's writing style but despite the book being a shade over 500 pages long felt that it lacked any real depth. The gay sex scenes are at times pretty graphic, like many heterosexual scenes in modern books, which some people will find objectionable and for me personally added nothing to the overall book.

In summary I found this an interesting read but not a particularly captivating one and as such doubt that it will live long in the memory. As such I feel that there must have been better books released in 2004 when this won the prize.It certainly won't make me want to rush out and read a Henry James novel either. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Jun 3, 2014 |
An astonishingly beautiful book. I can't think of another where the writing is so consistently lovely.

Content-wise, it's kind of like...if you wished [b:Brideshead Revisited|30933|Brideshead Revisited|Evelyn Waugh|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1168160077s/30933.jpg|2952196] was gayer, with overtones of [b:The Secret History|29044|The Secret History|Donna Tartt|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1167959950s/29044.jpg|221359] and even a dash of [b:The Remains of the Day|28921|The Remains of the Day|Kazuo Ishiguro|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/5114803QD2L._SL75_.jpg|3333111]. Sort of.

At times I was convinced this was going to land on my list of all-time favorite novels, but in the end it didn't quite have that keen thrill for me--it's more of a slow burn. Still, it's pretty great. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
If I'm honest I struggled with this novel. On the one hand it is a gentle story of the post Oxford life of the main character, Nick Guest. On the other hand, it deals with serious issues of homosexuality in a homophobic era, drugs, aids, thatcherism etc. I think if you just read the story without considering the issues, you are missing the point. Too deep for me, with a very bleak ending. ( )
  Elainedav | Jan 9, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
But the plot isn’t the point. This novel’s pleasures are thick and deep, growing out of the brilliant observational powers of the main character.
 

» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Alan Hollinghurstprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Risvik, KariTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Risvik, KjellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'What do you know about this business?' the King said to Alice. 'Nothing', said Alice. 'Nothing whatever?', persisted the King. 'Nothing whatever', said Alice. 'That's very important', the King said, turning to the jury. They were just beginning to write down on their slates, when the White Rabbit interrupted: 'Unimportant, your Majesty means, of course', he said in a very respectful tone, but frowning and making faces at him as he spoke. 'Unimportant, of course, I meant', the King hastily said, and went on to himself in an undertone, 'important - unimportant - unimporant - important -' as if he were trying which word sounded best. - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, chapter 12
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0330483218, Paperback)

Interview with Alan Hollinghurst
Alan Hollinghurst's extraordinarily rich novel The Line of Beauty. has garnered a new level of acclaim for the author after winning the 2004 Man Booker Prize. Hollinghurst speaks about his work in our interview.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:22:54 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

It is the summer of 1983, and 20-year-old Nick Guest has moved 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. Framed by the two general elections that returned Margaret Thatcher to power, The Line of Beauty unfurls through four extraordinary years of change and tragedy.… (more)

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