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3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
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on 25 August 2012
At the time of writing this, this Kindle version of the Booker Prize winning 'The Line of Beauty' was a paltry 89p. I would say this is a fantastic bargain for a thoroughly entertaining story that I would retrospectively have paid full price for anyway!

The story follows Nick Guest, a gay graduate from Oxford University who has found himself adopted by the family of Gerald Fedden. Fedden is the father of Nick's friend from university, Toby. Gerald Fedden is a fairly prominent Conservative politician whose political career provides a constant background to the explorations of friendship, sexuality and drugs that the story engages with.

The most pleasing aspect about the novel is the way that it deploys Nick's viewpoint to flit in and out of the broader political context which avoids it becoming a staid political critique of Thatcher's Britain. Readers therefore avoid being manipulated towards a simplistic conclusion about Tory Britain in the '80s even if the activities of this particular household are personally fairly damning.

Viewed from the perspective of austerity Britain, the presentation of the economically booming Britain of the '80s is arguably even more compelling. The casual attitude to both drugs and wealth certainly gives food for thought and provides a significant reminder to the reader about the social legacy that underpins the political machinations of 21st century politicians, a significant number of whom would have partied with the best of them at the kind of parties detailed within the fabric of this novel.

There are few characters that are very likable in this novel and it is perhaps a telling fact that one of the most endearing characters is Catherine, Toby's 'mad' sister, who, more than anyone, sees the society that she frequents for what it really is.

I only really had one criticism of the novel. In my opinion, and this wasn't shared by my friend who I discussed the book with the other day, Hollinghurst's prose struck me as being a little pretentious at times; particularly with regard to his lexical choices, which reflected to me a slightly contrived attempt to puff up the intellectual clout of the narrative.

Overall, I would thoroughly recommend 'The Line of Beauty'. It immerses the reader in a fascinating period of history for the UK, giving an intense flavour of a Tory-led society that publicly struggled to keep a lid on the private cocktail of sex, drugs and sexuality that bubbled underneath, threatening to shatter the foundations of the family-centric idyll of Conservatism.
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on 9 December 2007
At the time of writing I am appalled to see that the review star rating is only 3.5 stars; it is most definitely a 5***** star work of literature.
When I picked up this book and began to read I was already aware of the homosexual theme and I really did not have any high expectations. However I have to say that, for me, this is the finest prose since Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited". Elegant and evocative English, shimmering phrases and a magnetic storyline. Don't miss the chance to read this work of art.
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One of the biggest challenges of any novelist is to provide a perspective that's accessible to us and helpful in understanding what's being portrayed. Alan Hollinghurst has achieved remarkable results by stationing his narrator, Nick Guest, outside of all the worlds he inhabits. Guest is like a spirit rising amused over the action that can draw us a picture while recording every sound that's created or uttered.

Here are the worlds that Guest helps us explore:

-Tory MP life during the Thatcher years
-Young Oxford graduates looking for a place
-A young man exploring his homosexuality
-Wealthy British on the make for more
-Middle-aged married life
-Inner life of a young manic-depressive

The book's overall theme is about everyday hypocrisy and the large price that has to be paid by those who pretend to be other than what they are and believe.

The story evolves in three time periods: 1983, 1986, and 1987. In all three years, Nick Guest resides with the family of an Oxford friend where the father is a rising conservative MP. Nick has an unofficial role as low-cost lodger to keep on eye on the friend's troubled sister. The family knows that Nick is looking for a boy friend and is open about accepting his sexuality. The three years give us a chance to learn more about the characters and to see how their relationships change. The 1987 period brings all that had been known in private into public with large consequences for all.

The book is filled with great scenes where nuances of knowledge, awareness, perception, accent, and perspective separate and unite the characters. Often, contrasting scenes occur back-to-back so that the contrasts are even more obvious. You'll gain a deeper insight into British society than you could on your own.

Ultimately, I feel that a work of fiction must be judged by how successfully it takes you into a world you have never been in before and allows you to understand that world much better. Any novel that can help me understand what it's like to be gay during the AIDS epidemic while giving me a strong sense of Thatcher's leadership has to be pretty terrific because those dimensions are outside my experience and normal reading.

As a person who enjoys art, I was most impressed by the way that the ogee was worked into the story to provide a connecting metaphor for our common humanity.

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on 20 February 2006
In 1988, British gay novelist Alan Hollinghurst made a striking debut with "The Swimming Pool Library." Set in the Darwinian landscape of pre-AIDS homo London, the writing was beautiful and urgent, flaring at times to real poetry, while the characters exerted the pull of infatuation. I reached the end of that book resenting the forced separation and wanting to hang out with the whole lot for a lot longer.
Since then, each subsequent Hollinghurst novel has been more disappointing than the last. In the latest, "The Line of Beauty," his literary go-cart has come nearly to a halt. The writing is still elegant, studded with memorable turns, but the story is utterly without consequence, ditto the characters. Is Hollinghurst writing or doing his nails? Verdict: don't bother.
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on 25 April 2004
William Hogarth is an 18th-century English artist famous for his satiricalnarrative painting series 'Marriage a la mode' and 'The Rake's Prgress'.He is less well known as a rococo theorist, but Alan Hollinghurst adoptsHogarth's concept of 'the line of beauty' - an asymmetrical, doublecurving line - as the title and thematic emblem for his fourth novel, amagnificent evocation of 80's Britain. Without question, this novel is hisbest yet.
The previous novel, 'The Spell', was a dreamy pastoral withthe action - such as it was - arising organically from the characters'inner obsessions. To me, in this respect it seemed an advance on theprevious two novels, whose plots in retrospect seem ever so slightlycontrived. 'The Line of Beauty' sees a return to the ambitious plottingand social engagement of the first two books but with its emphasis on acharacter-driven plot is a completely unified and organicachievement.
It can be read as a modern 'Rake's Progress' - the rake inquestion being Hollinghurst's hero Nick Guest, whose rise and fall inThatcher's London the novel charts.
As in Hogarth, the action unfoldsin a series of grand set pieces crammed with sharply realised charactersand humorous detail. It's actually remarkable just how much of 'The Lineof Beauty' would be entirely familiar to Hogarth and his audience: aninnocent in London corrupted; the craze for chemical stimulants, money,power, status, sex - hypocritical politicians; parents at odds with theirchildren; arranged, loveless marriages; infidelity; prostitution; mentalilnness; a plague of sexually spread disease.
As in Hogarth, art has adouble edge: fatuously co-opted by ruling elites to bolster their status,it nevertheless has a subversive, ironic ability to comment on and mockthe action before it. The novel exhibits a staggeringly wide range ofreferences. Lightly handled, these form a richly textured ironiccounterpoint.
The arc of the story beautifully unfurls from the intimate early scenes toa series of grand social episodes fantastically realised in all theirsurface glamour and moral squalor. The approach to the Aids tragedy isstrikingly original and tough: for me it is all the more powerful for itscurtailed, apparently oblique handling.
With a writer who began hiscareer with a classic and whose every novel since has extended his range,it is possibly premature as well as fatuous to say he is writing now atthe peak of his powers. But surely the novel in English cannot get muchbetter than this.
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on 17 November 2014
I re-read this recently, probably because I liked the anniversary cover. It's a joy of a novel; about corruption and decadence, the overwhelming sense of entitlement oozing from the rich and powerful and the frailties of sensitive people struggling to cope in an insensitive world. Hollinghurst captures this so well, but the most poignant and memorable sections, for me at least, are those in which he expresses his longing for love and acceptance from a family that is not his own. It's a longing that most of us recognise, but too few of us realise is doomed from the start.
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I was deeply suspicious of this novel because of all the ecstatic reviews in the press, but having finished it, the only question in my mind is whether The Line of Beauty is a minor or a major masterpiece of British fiction. The reason for this is that precisely what makes it so different and refreshing - the gay take on the rise of Thatcherism - is also what limits it as a work of universal depth and significance. It is however the most brilliant work to have come my way since Ian McEwen's Atonement.
The plot has an almost 19th century purity and simpilicity to it. Nick Guest (the characters all have slightly too obvious names) is the lodger of the rich Fedden family in Notting Hill. Secretly in love with the beautiful but striaght Toby since Oxford, he is now doing a Phd on Henry James (whose wit, sensibility and arcane prose style form a counterpoint to the novel throughout). The Feddens are self-consciously liberal about Nick's homosexuality, despite the father Gerald being an ambitious Tory MP. Nick has not evne lost his virginity, but now, aged 21 he is about to lose his virginity with Leo, a sexy black guy whom he penetrates in the private gardens the houses of the rich back onto. [Readers who are not gay might find the descriptions of gay sex a bit much, but I thought they were an especially good feature of the novel, showing you the erotic even if it is completely alien.] Ultimately, he is destroyed by his relationship with the Feddens, and so is Gerald's reputation. They believe him to have been parasitical upon them, and in one sense it's true; yet he has also been loyal in ways unrecognised by them.
Nick is a splendid creation - at first weak and uncertain, despite his Oxford First, flattering himself he is a keeper of the family's secrets concerning their own sexual peccadillos - then increasingly outspoken until, in the final chapter, finally telling someone what he thinks of the family. They are ghastly, and yet Hollinghurst lets you see his character realising this slowly - too slowly for some, who might think the author also seduced. It is only as Gerald rises as an MP, attaining the ultimate triumph of having "the Lady" as Thatcher isa called, to his house, that the note of razor-sharp satire becomes clear. The erotic fascination Thatcher has for MPs is as weird as Nick's disastrous love for Leon, then an Arab pornographer, Wani, whose "love of corruption" includes the alternative "line of beauty" to Nick's sensibilities: cocaine. Increasingly drug and sex-addicted, Nick's innocence is never entirely lost, you feel, until the very last page when he realises that he probably had AIDS. The family Cassandra, Catherine, is a manic-depressive who tells the truth but is ignored: the first female character Hollinghurst has depicted in any depth, she is crucial to understanding how much deeper the novel goes than the Powellian or Fitzgeraldian view that "the rich are different". Their baseness, selfishness, hypocirsy and untrustworthiness are described by this pupil of James with a gentle ferocity worth of his Master.
There are so many marvellous scenes in this novel that it is hard to pick out one, from the description of Nick returning to his dreary home town, of which Gerald is MP, to the family holiday in the French manoir, ruined by a boorish multi-millionaire. The writing is stupendously, effortlessly good, so much so I found myself sighing with envy as well as admiration. My favourite scene comes in the middle, however, showing the Feddens and their guests listening to a piano recital. Hilariously philistine, they are deaf to Chopin, Schubert and Beethoven (as Nick is not) but vaguely approve of a tune they all recognise. There have been objections that the novel is too culturally elitist, displaying obscure facets of knowledge about antiques, say; but I found it far from precious and in fact these passages illustrate Nick's campy qualities, I think, rather than the author's. (That said, this most definitely isn't a novel for anyone with a chip on their shoulder, any more than it is one for a reader who wants their ego massaged.) In the end, though, what matters isn't only beauty, but love and its betrayals. Nick has given his life, quite literally, to the pursuit of both - just as the Tories have given theirs to money and power - and each is destroyed by greed. "None of his friends could save him", says the last page. Society has been atomised, and Nick as a gay man more than most. It is the same sort of tragic, sophisticated half-mocking vision of relationships as in Auden's poem "Lullaby" (Lay your sleeping head, my love, Human on my faithless arm")about the transience and also the power of beauty. It is a vision of the 1980s that is partial, yet truthful; gorgeously detailed in its satirical absurdities and yes, "so beautiful".
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on 23 May 2006
This is a beautifully written, enjoyable and very rewarding book. It is true that the story is slow moving and more focused on episodes then on a fully structured narrative. However, I did not feel this was a problem or off-putting as the language and the situations keep you engaged. Also, the seemingly unconnected episodes are nicely tied together when the book picks up pace towards the end. The book deals with the very public world of politics and money in the 80s and contrasts that with Nick Guest's (the main character) very private, often secret, love life. Towards the end of the story these two previously disconnected worlds collide to spectacular effect. The description of Nick's love life and his struggle to find himself as a man is the much more interesting part of the book. Many of the themes, places and situations remind me of other Hollinghurst books and the assumption is therefore that much of Nick's journey, as described in The Line of Beauty, is semi biographical. Highly recommended.
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on 16 October 2005
Not only because it won the Booker award but also because of the praise that `LINE OF BEAUTY' generated from all sources. However, as much as I wanted to love it and get into it, I found the first 300 or so pages to be extremely tedious and boring. I am all for a novel that stretches the mind by using beautiful prose and Alan Holinghurst does indeed have a flare for writing sparklingly beautiful prose; but in `THE LINE OF BEAUTY' he does so at the expense of the story. In my opinion there was nothing interesting about this book except the writing style until the very last chapters where things began to pick up and the story finally began to take shape. I am very glad that I took the time to actually finish this book because the last sections almost made it a worthwhile read and did evoke some feelings from me for the main character Nick, despite the fact that in my opinion he was a completely unlikable and dense character throughout the entire book. Unfortunately as good as the last chapters of the book may have been it was not enough to make me recommend `THE LINE OF BEAUTY' to my friends and family, something I often do when I stumble upon a good book. In my opinion this was at best a mediocre effort by Hollinghurst.
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on 1 February 2005
This is the first Hollinghurst I have read as I was drawn, as I suppose many readers were, by its winning of the Booker Prize. And it certainly is literary: not in the impenetrable, dense way that much high literature is, but in its subtle craftmanship. Every sentence is carefully hewn and reading this impressive book is like eating luxurious comfort food (without being sick).
While the book is relatively plotless (which appears to have attracted accusations of being boring or directionless), the writing is stunning and the depth of characterisation and acuity of observation is marvellous. The spirit of Henry James haunts the book both explicitly (the narrator, Nick, is struggling through a PhD on the author) but also stylistically. Hollinghurst's depiction of decaying class structures and the amoralities of Thatcher's Britain echo James's own writing from a century earlier.
So, the writing is fantastic and the observation keen. Throughout, you marvel at how Hollinghurst has pinpointed the subtleties of the human range of emotions with rapier accuracy. He seems to have a deeper intuitive understanding of human motivations, frailties and emotions than any other British contemporary write that I have read (admittedly not a huge number).
The narrative arc, while not exactly sinuous, is satisfying and the slow build to the dramatic conclusion is nicely paced. Also, the device of the smart, slightly off-stage, narrator (a la Great Gatsby for example) is engaging. It draws you in with its complicity of ironic distancing. This elision of the reader's and Nick's own thoughts and observations ensures that the book remains gripping is spite of its sedate pace. You are there with Nick, experiencing at first hand the rogue's gallery of dilletantes and go-getters that swarmed around the Tory honeypot.
In the end, I felt like I had dined at the top table. This is a treat of a novel which although lacking the strong hit of breakneck plotting or heavy polemic does weave a subtle blend of flavours which leave the reader heartily satiated. For lovers of beautifully crafted lines, this is highly recommended.
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