The Line of Beauty
|Genre||Gay, historical novel|
|Published||2004 (Picador Books)|
|Media type||Print (Paperback and Hardback)|
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, which protagonist Nick Guest uses to describe Wani's body. In contrast, other characters describe lines of cocaine as "beautiful".
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
Hollinghurst wrote part of the novel in Yaddo.
Hollinghurst has received praise for his portrayal of life among the privileged governing classes during the early to middle 1980s. The novel has been compared to Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, with special regard to Powell's character Nicholas Jenkins. The protagonist has also been likened to Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. 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."
- Bloomsbury Publishing, paperback edition, 176
- The Man Booker Prize
- BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Arts | Hollinghurst takes Booker Prize
- Alfred Hickling, 'Between the lines', The Guardian, 10 April 2004
- Anthony Quinn, 'The Last Good Summer', New York Times, 31 October 2004
- 'The last summer', The Telegraph, 28 March 2004
- Wood, James (13 December 2004). "The Ogee Curve". The New Republic.
- The BBC Line of Beauty website
- Video of an interview on The Line of Beauty with Alan Hollinghurst, top right hand corner
- Review from The Guardian
- Review from The Telegraph
- Review from the New York Times
- Review from the Washington Post
- Review from the San Francisco Chronicle
- Review from the Boston Globe
- Review from the Seattle Times
- Review from the Christian Science Monitor
- Review from The Age
- 'All the Glitters', review in the Oxonian Review
- The Line of Beauty (miniseries) at the Internet Movie Database
Vernon God Little
|Man Booker Prize recipient