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[4] The Line of Beauty – Alan Hollinghurst

Elegantly written with salvage details of sex, The Line of Beauty however, is not a gay fiction, but a literary piece that portrays a political period through the eyes of a gay protagonist. It embodies the grand metaphor of what Thatcher did to Britain in the 80s and also the personal temptation-pulsed journey of Nick Guest. It reminisces the lasting sense of unhappiness and dismay and how awful Maggie’s Britain was. In a wider sense, the novel is an oblique look, one that is both imaginative and interesting as it approaches the sense of forlornness through the eyes of someone like Nick who was absorbed by it and thought it was all rather glamorous. The novel slowly unveils through Nick’s journey to relationship, with his lovers and that with the MP household. He is rather weak and easily led but morally pliable. He could be wholly corrupted but he knows his limits and is prune to many temptations, which seem to characterize the novel’s times. The novel exposes to the full the idea of an absolute instability and frailty when the country seems to lose its common sense.

The Line of Beauty is a significant novel in its historical and political essence. It is a painstaking, disconcerting, and savage delineation of the Thatcher years as seen through the tale of Nick, who finds himself living in the attic room of the stately mansion of ascendant Tory politician Gerald Fedden and his family. Nick is a just-coming-out Oxford graduate and is secretly in love with Fedden’s straight son Toby. An affair with a young black clerk gives Nick his debut romance, but also alerts him with lurking crisis of his gay identity. He feels he might look like a person with no friends. He is extremely sensitive to anything that might be said. He feels he has the wrong kind of irony, the mistaken knowledge, the inappropriate sarcasm for gay life. With a tinge of innocence and careful curiosity that will later whittle away in time, he is faintly shocked, among other emotions and interest and excitement, at the idea of a male couple.

It is later secret affair with a millionaire, a film-maker, his college friend Wani that changes Nick’s life drastically and rids all his boyish innocence and curiosity on aspects of being gay. A handsome Lebanese and the only son to an old-valued man who owns a supermarket chain, Wani, with an indefeasible family instinct, exacts totally secrecy in his affair with Nick. It is not sure whether he pretends to be straight or chooses to keep a low-profile with his affair. To him, for sure, his family is as natural as sex and as irrefutable in its demands. His “fiancée”, a female companion whom he pays, is just a front. Everything Wani and Hick do: the surreal montage of sexual conspiracy and the drug escapade is clandestine that Wani has slipped away into a world his father has never imagined.

Though Nick might have entertained the thrill of wandering away from strict truth, tricking people and longing for scandalous acclaim of the secret affair, he finds himself compelled to tell the truth, and to vocalize all the mischievous beauty. The deep connection between them is so surreptitious that at times it is difficult to believe it exists. The cultivation of their love requires indifference. It is an intuition blinked away by its own absurdity, the very element that charms and hypnotizes them. Wani’s strict discretion originates from his father casting high hope on him, the only son, after his brother was killed in a car accident in Beirut. Wani has shouldered that burden of family mourning since childhood and seems more touching, more glamorous and more forgivable at the revelation of the mishap. It therefore aggrandizes the affair, which becomes more convincing not to be mistaken for the squeeze of guilt.

The novel carefully winds down towards a shocking and forceful denouement in which the entire political decade is expertly drawn as a human sham. Regardless of the lucid elaboration of sex and drugs, which might have raised highbrow of literary elite, the novel has scooped the Booker Prize. The explicit physical content in The Line of Beauty is nothing compared to Hollinghurst’s 1988 debut The Swimming Pool Library, which is riddled of even more explicit scenes all the way through it. The gay protagonist in the novel of current interest, however, does not isolate himself in a strange way and whose contact with the world is not entirely sexual. The Line of Beauty is clearly about things other than being gay: a social commentary perhaps and it almost becomes somewhat irritating if it is used to imply that that is all there is to the book. Merely looking at it as gay fiction will not do justice of its fine writing and buried meaning.

5 Responses

  1. I was quite fond of this book, but at times I felt like I was reading Thomas Mann or something equally slow. I think I would have benefitted by knowing more (less than nothing as was the case) about politics in Britain in the 80’s. If anything, I think the writing itself was the most beautiful part of the book. And I always think about how he calls the language of porn binaries of “ohs” and “yeahs” like 0’s and 1’s. Classic.

  2. […] territory where the difference between sex and companionship becomes blurry. The most recent The Line of Beauty won the Booker […]

  3. […] politics and day-to-day gay life. His debut The Swimming-Pool Library and Booker Prize-winning The Line of Beauty both embody a gloomy, sober, and functional underworld-full of life, purpose, and sexuality. None […]

  4. […] Hollinghurst’s first novel in seven years since The Line of Beauty is about the life and legacy of a gay war poet, a minor one who enters into common consciousness […]

  5. […] 2003 DBC Pierre Vernon God Little (Australia) 2004 Alan Hollinghurst The Line of Beauty (UK)* Review 2005 John Banville The Sea (Ireland)* Review 2006 Kiran Desai The Inheritance of Loss (India) 2007 […]

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