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 literature
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 Man Booker Prize-winning novel by Alan Hollinghurst.


The novel is set in Britain in three parts, taking place in 1983, 1986 and 1987. The story surrounds the young gay protagonist, Nick Guest. Nick is middle-class and from the fictional market town of Barwick in Northamptonshire; he has graduated from Worcester College, Oxford with a First in English and is to begin postgraduate studies at University College London. Many of the significant characters in the novel are Nick's male contemporaries from Oxford.

The book explores the tension between Nick's intimate relationship with the Fedden family, 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 privilege, with the emerging AIDS crisis forming a backdrop to the book's conclusion.

"The Love Chord" (1983)[edit]

The novel begins in the summer of 1983, shortly after Margaret Thatcher's second victory in the general election. Nick moves into the luxurious Notting Hill home of the 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 Conservative MP for Barwick—are at their holiday home in France. Left at home with Nick is the Feddens' daughter Catherine (Cat), who suffers from bipolar disorder 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 moving into his own place.

Nick has his first romance with Leo Charles, a black man from Willesden a few years older than himself, whom he meets through a lonely hearts column.

"To Whom Do You Beautifully Belong?" (1986)[edit]

As a permanent member of the Fedden household, Nick experiences for the first time the world of the British upper class, observing them from his own middle-class background. Margaret Thatcher visits the house for an evening party and Nick dances with her. A sexual relationship with the closeted Wani Ouradi, another of Nick's Oxford contemporaries and the son of a rich Lebanese businessman, illuminates the materialism and ruthlessness of 1980s Thatcherite Britain. Nick and Wani establish the "Ogee" media business to produce films and publish a magazine of the same name.

"The End of the Street" (1987)[edit]

In 1987, Gerald is re-elected and conducting an affair with Penny, his parliamentary assistant. Polly, another of Nick's Oxford contemporaries, is elected for the first time.

Wani is dying from AIDS and Leo's sister visits Nick at the Ogee office to reveal that Leo also died from the disease. Nick and Cat discover Gerald and Penny's affair which leads to a media scandal, forcing Nick to leave the Fedden household.


The title of the book refers to the Line of Beauty - 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. The novel also deals with the "coming out" experience of Nick and of gay men in general.

The novel explores the question of whether a gay man can remain apolitical in a homophobic society. Nick's dance with Margaret Thatcher has overtones of a dance with the devil.

The book refers frequently to the life and works of Henry James.

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

Hollinghurst wrote part of the novel at the Yaddo colony.

The book won the 2004 Booker Prize.[2][3]

Hollinghurst has received praise for his portrayal of life among the privileged governing classes during the early to middle 1980s.[4] The novel has been compared to Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time,[5] with special regard to Powell's character Nicholas Jenkins.[6] The protagonist has also been likened to Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.[7] 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."[8]

Margaret Thatcher's appearance has been compared to that of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness;[6] Sir Maurice Tipper and his wife have been compared to Evelyn Waugh characters.[6]

Television adaptation[edit]

In 2006, a television adaptation was broadcast by the BBC.


  1. ^ Bloomsbury Publishing, paperback edition, 176
  2. ^ "The Man Booker Prize: The Line of Beauty". Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  3. ^ "Alan Hollinghurst wins prestigious Booker Prize". The Advocate. 21 October 2004. Retrieved 8 February 2015. Out British author Alan Hollinghurst has won the Booker Prize... 
  4. ^ BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Arts | Hollinghurst takes Booker Prize
  5. ^ Alfred Hickling, 'Between the lines', The Guardian, 10 April 2004
  6. ^ a b c Anthony Quinn, 'The Last Good Summer', New York Times, 31 October 2004
  7. ^ 'The last summer', The Telegraph, 28 March 2004
  8. ^ Wood, James (13 December 2004). "The Ogee Curve". The New Republic. 

External links[edit]

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