The Line of Beauty
- Henderson, Schuyler
- Date of entry: Apr-26-2006
- Last revised: Nov-19-2009
Hollinghurst's Booker Prize winning novel begins in 1983, just as Nick Guest has graduated from university. A young middle class gay man, he has secured for himself a rather cozy spot in the posh Notting Hill mansion of the wealthy Fedden family, based on his friendship at Oxford with the family scion, Toby, and partly earning his keep by looking after the daughter, Catherine, whose manic depression is marked by mood swings, lability, suicidal thoughts, and self-mutilation.
Gerald Fedden, the imposing paterfamilias has recently been elected a Tory MP (Member of Parliament), rising to power on the coattails of Margaret Thatcher's dominance of British politics in the 1980s. The story follows Nick through the mid-1980s, between Thatcher's two re-elections, chronicling his relationships with the Fedden family, his parents and his lovers, as his own fortunes and opportunities swell and then burst.
Hollinghurst's crystalline language and sharp eye for social maneuvers evoke the Thatcherite 1980s in lurid detail, capturing some of the epoch's glistening callousness, cocaine indulgence and hard cruelty. Henry James is a touchstone for both Hollinghurst and his protagonist: for the novelist, James inspires a dense psychological detail and minute observation of social and class-based mannerisms, and for the protagonist, James is "a passion" (435).
Like Gilbert Adair's Buenos Noches, Buenos Aires [also in this database], this novel provides a different perspective on the burgeoning AIDS epidemic from the elegies and the activism of much art inspired by AIDS. Some of the novel's most powerful passages, shorn of sentimentality and narrated with scrupulous intensity, come in the last section, as AIDS takes it toll on Nick's lovers, Leo and Wani.
The descriptions of the illness are unsparing, and the psychologies of those affected and those who are not described in unflinching detail: "And after that it was impossible to approach him on the subject of his fatal illness. Nick saw it was perplexing for the Americans, who had met [Wani] as a man about to get married. Now natural concern was mixed with furtive thinking back" (433).