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The Line of Beauty
on 14 December 2010
The Line of Beauty certainly delivers what it connotes in the title. A beautifully crafted text, the pages are thick with appreciation of beautiful objects and obsessive observations of intricate detail in every paragraph. The protagonist, an impressionable young, gay student, Nick Guest is staying with the Feddens where he is submerged in a world of wealth where he finds himself experiencing a life full of affluence, politics and scandal.
In the middle of it all, Nick finds himself torn to the beauty that surrounds him. In an infatuated manner Nick is caught like a blind man who sees sun for the first time. Picking up on every intricate detail, Hollinghurst paints vivid and nauseating imagery through Nick's narration. The lust within Nick is intense to the point of perverse, a man who keeps his thoughts to the surface, he is so encaged within himself that his mind run wilds and he caresses every detail.
However, the length of the book says nothing to the storyline, I found it very shallow and the breadth of it is filled with self indulgent hunger from Nick's mind, there are little times when his mind does not wander to a place more intimate, whether it be fantasy or a memory from last night's sexual experience. Unlike his fellow characters who are spared his constant sexual commentary, the reader cannot escape feeling uncomfortable at points. I don't question that this was the author's intent, nor that this is the aspect that other readers find most alluring about the book, however, it is an appetite not everyone possesses, and not a taste I particularly enjoyed.
The underlying issues surrounding the story are deep and sober giving the book more meaning, but parts of it are as awkward for the reader as they are for the characters described in the situation. The focus on beauty is a constant throughout and the tone set is dreamlike and smoky, reflecting the mood of Thatcher's London in the 1980's; joining cocaine, sex and scandal. It is intelligently written with interesting and well illustrated characters, however the self indulgence was the opposite of engaging. A harrowing ending leaves the characters in tatters, however it was difficult to feel sympathy for characters as shallow and selfish as these.
Once you get past the self-absorption of it all, there is a wonderful lust for beauty that cannot be ignored. The passion within the text is one which Hollinghurst submits unquestionably throughout the ups and downs of Nick Guests experience. There is an element of irony throughout, it could almost seem as though Hollinghurst has depicted himself in his characters, Nick Guest is in the middle of studying Henry James, of whom the novel is written in a very similar style, as well as Nick writing his own novel `about someone who loves things more than people'.
It is idealistic yet beautifully vulnerable and I would still place the novel as one of the most artfully crafted pieces of writing and a new perspective of a different life, however I would suggest it as anything but a beach read.