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3.7 out of 5 stars
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3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 22 March 2017
An appropriately applauded modern-day masterpiece where the author understands that effective prose has got a function beyond acting as an engine for the plot. He maximises the use of language to let the reader inhabit the deep ambiguities that are at the heart of human experience. After a long time, I felt like I got to feel the throb of the heart that keeps literary fiction alive, and a page of Hollinghurst is all one needs to feel the heat and the beat.

Courageously written in third person narrator spanning four years in Thatcher years, it tracks the experience of a middle-class (emphasis on his class) fresh-out-of-university Nick who starts boarding in one of his affluent friend's house in Kensington. Between holidays in rural France, clocking up boyfriends (secretly), and paryting with the rich and the powerful (it's boom time for the Tories!) he graduates slickly from a tagalong to a self-fashioned aesthetic advisor, and smugly, mistakenly believes he has become one of them: an Insider. Then he missteps or rather finds himself at the wrong end, the chips fall, and he is promptly shown the door. Around this misunderstanding of intimacies and loyalties, he witnesses some of his paramours swallowed whole by the raging AIDS epidemic.

I found Nick to be a very curious narrator and was absolutely bewitched by his contradictions. He is, at heart, a deeply sensitive man with a penchant to appreciate beauty of the surfaces, art, architecture, with a repertoire of appreciating ranging from Henry James' poised prose all the way to the contrapuntal beauty in Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances. And yet, other than a literal extrapolation of this sensitivity to his gaze at the male anatomy, his engagement with the people and enquiry into his own behaviour remains detached, analytical and oddly passive for a good two-thirds of the book. This makes him a phenomenally interesting protagonist: who in equal parts enticed and indifferent, is traipsing through the aisles of high-life, casually soaking the decadence without letting the moral radar prod through. Despite being given a credible eye for surfaces, Hollinghurst has packed him chockfull with deep interiorities. And the result is that the book reads very deeply.

Suffice to say, I have found in Hollinghurst a master prose stylist absolutely in control of all the elements: literal, tonal, subtextual which means that the literalities do not matter for the longest of times, even though the author has painstakingly researched and concealed this research to let the characters breathe and the reader feel their company and the times they live in. There is not a sentence wasted or spent wandering. In what could be termed a traditional manner of constructing and delivering big novels, little character and event details mentioned quietly like leitmotifs in the initial pages are made to gradually develop, seemingly organically over the four years (but obviously the author is pulling the strings) and made to come together to form a climactic movement in the foreground that wrenches an ephiphany and an emotion out of his reader, almost like a musical symphony.

Rest assured I’d be returning to this book for the sheer brilliance of the writing performance and an offensively high number of quotable lines. Bravo!
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on 19 April 2017
The kind of book you will read again and again, well observed, poignant and beautifully 80s. Well deserved as Booker.
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on 7 October 2015
Great
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on 2 September 2014
Very good
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on 10 January 2010
Alan Hollinghurst's novel, The Line of Beauty has the backdrop of 1980's London, when the political and social barometer was veering towards family values with the impending rise of Thatcherism and the spotlight shone firmly on politician's private lives. The novel explores the professional and private lives of the Fedden family and particularly focuses on their lodger, friend and the main protagonist Nick Guest.
The comedic skill of Alan Hollinghurst makes the reader laugh and cry at the same time. The hedonistic lifestyle of Nick Guest is revealed to the reader but may surprise some of his fellow characters. Oxford student Nick appears to be a sophisticated together guy, but his life is spiralling out of control with his relationships and cocaine use. Nick seems to be a character that it would be hard to like but through his willingness to please, he wins over the empathy of the reader, sadly for Nick things don't always go his way.
The novel deals with homosexuality, AIDS, the 1980's period and Thatcherism, as the predominant themes, these are also present in other novels by Hollinghurst such as The Fading Star which won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1994.
Hollinghurst's writing is a joy to read in this well crafted and refreshingly honest story, in which the reader is given an open window into the hidden liberal lifestyle of Nick Guest. Sometimes explicit, but always written with sophisticated style, you may find the novel startlingly frank, laugh out loud funny and thought provoking. Acclaimed by critics and readers alike and with Hollinghurst's pedigree as a contemporary novelist, it is no surprise that The Line of Beauty was nominated and subsequently won the Man Booker Prize in 2004.
Definitely a must read!
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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 12 March 2012
I find that Amazon reviewers usually get it right, especially on an average score over a good number of reviews, and this one looks just about right at a high 3-star / low 4-star, no matter how much this novel has been prized.

Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty is witty and very well-written social comedy. But it suffers from the genre's weakness, namely limited psychological depth. And it is entertaining, never boring, but never quite engrossing either. I remember reading something about a Victorian convention that novels always ought to be set twenty or so years, or a generation, in the past. This meets the standard exactly, aiming to describe the roaring but now already quaint-looking Thatcher years. Nick Guest is family friend and lodger to the well-to-do Feddens, including Toby, his Oxford mate, Gerald, an up-and-coming MP and ministerial material, his wife Rachel, and their rebellious daughter Catherine. Nick is moreover gay, and forced to navigate between secrecy and the budding tolerance of the times. Much of the book is devoted to Nick's hazardous love affairs: hazardous if only because this was also the first decade of AIDS. But soon he becomes embroiled in the Feddens' scandal-ridden fall.

The author pulls no punches, and his acerbic lines are good for the occasional laugh. But that is also where the fault lies. The Tories, and the Thatcher years, are given no respite. This novel has neither room for comprehension nor forgiveness. And I found Nick unrealistic at times, as a character - I am sure Hollinghurst is deeply erudite, and this seems in many ways his alter ego, but no one can carry Nick's encyclopaedic knowledge, ranging from English literature to French cathedrals to musical criticism and to eighteenth-century silverware, at age twenty-one. Holllinghurst's Line of Beauty is a great novel, but it lacks the compassion, and the subtlety of characterisation, of a classic.
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on 19 September 2014
The Line Of Beauty is a satire set in the 80s, during the second Thatcher term, its principal character Nick Guest, the gay lodger at the sumptuous Notting Hill home of an ambitious but not unlikeable junior minister in the Tory Government, Gerald Feddon MP, whose family comprises his wife Rachel, a Jewish heiress, their son Toby, Nick’s unrequited crush at Oxford, and their daughter Catherine, a potentially suicidal manic depressive with a history of unsuitable ex-boyfriends. Lurking elsewhere are Rachel’s fabulously wealthy banker uncle Lionel, Nick’s gay lovers Leo, a black government worker, and Wani, the playboy son of a Lebanese supermarket tycoon, and Toby’s actress girlfriend whose truly hideous father is a ruthless asset stripper.
In a series of wonderful set-pieces, arranged chronologically in three parts -1983, 1986 and 1987 - the book explores a variety of themes: the liberating nature of uninhibited gay sex, the ghastly arrogance and ingrained racism of the super-wealthy, the hypocrisy of the Tories, the widespread use of cocaine amongst the upper classes, the advancing tragedy of AIDS and, finally, the uncomfortable axiom that even a tabloid scandal won’t destroy you if you can buy your way out of it. While much of the story takes place in Notting Hill, we also visit the South of France, where the Feddons have a holiday retreat, for an eye-opening glimpse of the rich at their leisure. Five-hundred quid for lunch (in 1986) anyone?
It is to the author’s enormous credit that although his book represents a trenchant censure of political manoeuvring during the Thatcher years, there are no direct slights aimed at the PM or even at the more disagreeable characters. Hollinghurst is far too subtle for that, simply allowing the interweaving strands of his story to build up an alarming picture of moral decay at the heart of the ruling classes. At one point a Whitehall mandarin sums up the mood by exclaiming: “The economy’s in ruins, no one's got a job, and we just don't care, it’s bliss.”
The prose is an absolute joy, a line of beauty in itself, the characters all too real and the humour rampant. I will quote one brief passage. One of Feddon’s ambitions is realised when Thatcher – referred to always as ‘The Lady’ by her sycophantic MPs – visits his home on the occasion of his 25th wedding anniversary. Nick, emboldened by a snort of cocaine and the prospect of rough sex with an olive-skinned waiter, decides to ask her to dance: “It was the simplest thing to do -- Nick came forward and sat, half-kneeling, on the sofa's edge, like someone proposing in a play. He gazed delightedly at the Prime Minister's face, at her whole head, beaked and crowned, which he saw was a fine if improbable fusion of the Vorticist and the Baroque. She smiled back with a certain animal quickness, a bright blue challenge. There was the soft glare of the flash -- twice -- three times -- a gleaming sense of occasion, the gleam floating in the eye as a blot of shadow, his heart running fast with no particular need of courage as he grinned and said, 'Prime Minister, would you like to dance?' 'You know, I'd like that very much,' said the P.M., in her chest tones, the contralto of conviction. Around her the men sniggered and recoiled at an audacity that had been beyond them.”
There are plenty of clever literary references throughout, not the least being the main character’s name: Nick. Another Nick – Nick Carraway – was the observer of events among the rich and powerful in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, one of my favourite novels, and, like Nick Guest in Beauty, he also found himself serving as a confidant for those with troubling secrets. Yet another – Nicholas Jenkins – scrutinised the British aristocracy in Anthony Powell's 12-volume masterpiece, A Dance To The Music Of Time, the finest fictionalised account of mid-20th century British bourgeoisie life ever written. And all the while, Nick is distractedly completing a thesis on the American writer Henry James.
Structured as it is, certain characters in A Line Of Beauty disappear and don’t re-appear until considerably later, all of which serves to hike up the tension and retain interest. Some might find the graphic portrayal of gay sex distasteful, and if it’s a little slow in starting, the final 50 pages rumble along like the proverbial express train, even if the denouement does leave a rather sour taste in the mouth. Nevertheless, when I finished the final page, I desperately wanted to know what happened next to all these people – the good, the bad and the ugly – and that, I think, is the acid test of a truly great novel: to leave the reader wanting more.
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on 30 June 2009
But then wasn't that what the eighties were supposed to be about? Certainly if you take Alan Hollinghurst's squalid but stylish retro-blast at the greed decade at face value. We follow naïve and self-obsessed Nick Guest through his post-Oxford days after leaving and lodging with the family of his best friend Toby (with whom he is secretly in love) in Kensington Park Gardens. With a penchant for black males he finds `love' (in reality a clandestine bunk-up in the garden) for the first time with Leo, a black homosexual council worker, and later with Wani, a coke-snorting closet gay and son of a ruthless Lebanese tycoon. This second relationship leads to his downfall.
Nick is at ease living with Toby's family: his monstrously ambitious and egotistical father, a typical 1980's Thatcher-worshipping Conservative MP (cf Alan B'stard), his mother, a rich woman in her own right and his sister, a dangerously unbalanced bipolar depressive. They tolerate Nick's homosexuality by virtue of never mentioning it. But then this work is also a study in the hypocritical attitudes of the governing classes of the day; their obsession with morality only in the sexual sense (though all of them are indulging in extra-marital affairs) while blatantly sanctioning much more damaging immorality: the tobacco industry and arms dealing to unstable regimes. There are a host of other equally - and even more - obnoxious upper-class characters whose ostentatious displays of aesthetics and genteel accents are a veneer for their true philistinism.
So what's wrong with the book? Well, to begin with the author appears to be too comfortable with the social world about which he writes and as a result it fails as satire. Secondly, it is too long and for a large part there is not much to suggest that it takes place in the 1980s apart from the name-dropping and the comical and slightly eerie appearance of the Iron Lady herself at a party. Thirdly, it is difficult to feel sympathetic towards any of the characters (normally you need one in a novel) as they all barge through their lives without the least thought for the consequences of their actions and without any concern for the welfare of those around them, let alone the less fortunate. However, that criticism leads onto the best part of the book and where the writing compares favourably with any in modern English fiction: the later chapters when the AIDS issue arises, the one subject that cast an even darker shadow over the decade than Mrs T. Suddenly, as the reality hits home for Nick and his friends the prose brims with poignancy and compassion. That is enough to upgrade what would otherwise be a fairly ordinary novel to a four star one.
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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.
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