Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Athena K's Review - The Line of Beauty

I noticed that this site doesn't yet have a complete review of this one.  For the patient reader, The Line of Beauty is a richly rewarding story.  One does not devour The Line of Beauty - it is to be slowly savored.  This was an adjustment for me.  I'm used to knowing I like a book because I can't put it down, the plot is so engrossing that, for a while, I forget my entire life.  This book provided a different sort of pleasure, and at the end see why this is a Booker book.

Aptly named Nick Guest is a visitor who never seems to manage to leave his stay in the home of a rich schoolmate with powerful connections.  Set in 1980's London against the political backdrop of the Thatcher era, I was a bit lost on the deeper meaning of some of the context (what's the difference between a Conservative and a Tory?  What did Margaret Thatcher actually do?  I was 1 year old when this novel opens).  The novel is divided into three sections spanning 4.5 years.  The first section centers on Nick's poignant first love affair - as a gay man.  Nick's innocence, his sense of the entire world before him, and his tenderness of first love and and first physical experience are so real I found it captivating.  However, it is fair to say that very little actually happens in this first third, and I have read review after review suggesting that many people put the book down for good at the end of this section, disappointed with the novel.  Read on.

In the second section, a much more experienced Nick exposes an underside of the power and money high of the 80's - cocaine, anonymous partners, and greed and frivolous expense.  It is not until the third section that all of the characters Hollinghurst has painstakingly crafted reach their apex in glory or defeat.  And only through getting to know these characters in the slow, drawn-out way this novel has can the end be felt so emotionally.

Nick's uniting theme throughout his experience as a guest in the family is an abiding interest in beauty - beautiful things and beautiful people.  Experiencing beauty with someone else is how Nick prefers to communicate his deepest feelings.  And while the digressions on the actual line of beauty seemed contrived to me, the theme of obsession with temporal beauty in the context of the AIDS epidemic was appropriate and insightful.


  1. What a wonderful review! As the person who posted the only other review so far, I congratulate you on finishing the book. I probably should try this book again someday. And I'm very interested in reading Hollinghurst's latest, nominated for the 2011 prize.

  2. Thanks Athena - this has inspired me to give it another go. I must admit I didn't finish it when I attempted to read it back in 2004. As mentioned before I'll gove the new Hollinghurst a go first as it is part of the 2011 long list.

  3. This is the first Booker prize winner I ever read, way back when in 2004, just before it won. I remember the prose being so sumptuous and sensual. Definitely shows in its love affair with "The Master"