Saturday, April 30, 2016

Review: "The Line of Beauty" by Alan Hollinghurst

Alan Hollinghurst’s Booker Prize-winning novel The Line of Beauty is a book filled with awkward dinner parties, joyless gay sex and passions and desires a hair out of reach of those seeking it. It has been compared favorably to The Great Gatsby, so much so that the book’s main character is named Nick. It is very much inspired by that book, and to its detriment, standing on its shoulders as well. It is a very well-written piece, bringing a kind of sad eloquence to the moral squalor of British 80’s decadence, framed by the two elections that brought Margaret Thatcher to power. But besides that, it doesn’t offer anything too original to a tired retread besides a rather well-crafted and breathtaking edifice. Broken up into three parts across the 1980’s, the book follows Nick Guest, a quasi-closeted gay youth living with the affluent and politically connected Fedden family. Nick has a crush on the son, Toby, a close relationship with Catherine, who suffers from bipolar disorder, and sees the parents, Rachel and Gerald as surrogates. More meandering than the Fitzgerald novel, in the three parts, it focuses on the passions of Nick, which tend toward the carnal. He first meets Leo, an older black closet case, through a lonely hearts advertisement, and develops his first strong romantic connection, bookended by a romp in a neighbor’s yard and a fatalistic showing of Scarface. The next two sections sees Nick’s relationship with Wani, a former classmate, rise and fall over the course of two years as the AIDs crisis intensifies. I liked the lighthearted touch this book has, where even scenes of despair, like most of the last section, have the same dreamlike whimsical quality to them as the famous scene where a drunk and high Nick dances lewdly with Thatcher herself. Hard to follow sometimes but never boring, this is a rather intimate novel of big ideas, themes and events. 

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