The Line of Beauty

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For the television adaptation, see The Line of Beauty (TV series).
The Line of Beauty
First edition
Author Alan Hollinghurst
Country UK
Language English
Genre Gay, historical novel
Published 2004 (Picador Books)
Media type Print (Paperback and Hardback)
Pages 400 pp
ISBN 0-330-48321-8
OCLC 263634123

The Line of Beauty is a 2004 Booker Prize-winning novel by Alan Hollinghurst.


Set in Britain in the early to mid-1980s, the story surrounds the young gay protagonist, Nick Guest, who has come down from Oxford with a first in English and is to begin postgraduate studies at University College London.

The novel begins in the summer of 1983, shortly after Thatcher's landslide victory in that year's general election. Nick moves into the luxurious London home of the wealthy Fedden family. The son of the house, Toby, is his Oxford University classmate and best friend, and Nick's stay is meant to last for a short time while Toby and his parents – Rachel, the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family, and Gerald, a successful businessman and just-elected Tory MP – are on holiday in France. Left at home with Nick is the Feddens' daughter, Cat, who is bipolar and whom the Feddens are reluctant to leave on her own. Nick helps Cat through a minor crisis, and when her parents return they suggest he stay on indefinitely, since Cat has become attached to him and Toby is getting a place of his own.

As a permanent member of the Feddens' household, Nick experiences for the first time the world of the British upper class, observing them from his own middle-class background. Nick remains a guest in the Fedden home until he is expelled at the end of the novel. Nick has his first romance with a black council worker, Leo, but a later relationship with Wani, the son of a rich Lebanese businessman, illuminates the materialism and ruthlessness of 1980s Thatcherite Britain.

The book explores the tension between Nick's intimate relationship with the Feddens, in whose parties and holidays he participates, and the realities of his sexuality and gay life, which the Feddens accept only to the extent of never mentioning it. It explores themes of hypocrisy, homosexuality, madness and wealth, with the emerging AIDS crisis forming a backdrop to the book's conclusion.


The title of the book refers to the double "S" of the ogee shape, a shape which "swings both ways". William Hogarth in his The Analysis of Beauty, describes how beauty itself is embodied in the shape,[1] which protagonist Nick Guest uses to describe Wani's body. In contrast, other characters describe lines of cocaine as "beautiful".

Major themes[edit]

The book touches upon the emergence of HIV/AIDS, as well as the relationship between politics and homosexuality, its acceptance within the 1980s Conservative Party and mainstream society. The book also considers heterosexual hypocrisy regarding homosexual promiscuity. Finally, an underlying theme is the nature of beauty. Nick is attracted to physical beauty in art and in men. However, he pays a price for his choices: his beautiful lover Wani is a self-hating homosexual, and the Feddens' home (in which Nick Guest remains a guest) is filled with both exquisite art and vile hypocrisy.

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

Hollinghurst wrote part of the novel in Yaddo.

The book won the 2004 Booker Prize.[2]

Hollinghurst has received praise for his portrayal of life among the privileged governing classes during the early to middle 1980s.[3] The novel has been compared to Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time,[4] with special regard to Powell's character Nicholas Jenkins.[5] The protagonist has also been likened to Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.[6] James Wood, writing for The New Republic, praised the novel, calling it "an ample and sophisticated delight, charged with hundreds of delicate impressions and insights, and scores of vital and lovely sentences", although he criticized the ending as a "somewhat trite and anachronistic vision of the homosexual as a figure always doomed to be unhoused and exiled from happiness, solitary and lonely, without family or friends, always nostalgic for a bosom that has always, if only secretly, rejected him."[7]

Margaret Thatcher's appearance has been compared to that of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness;[5] Sir Maurice Tipper and his wife have been compared to Evelyn Waugh characters.[5]

Television adaptation[edit]


External links[edit]

Preceded by
Vernon God Little
Man Booker Prize recipient
Succeeded by
The Sea