Sunday, 14 October 2012

THE LINE OF BEAUTY by Alan Hollinghurst

Stop the presses, it's a Booker winning novel that isn't crap! I'm amazed. It won in 2004, so maybe back then they were still awarding actual good novels, and since then it's been getting gradually more pretentious.

THE LINE OF BEAUTY tells the story of a middle class young man named Nick who after attending Oxford moves into the family home of one of his wealthy classmates. He lives there for some three years, and the novel follows his time with them. It traces two romances: his romance with his idea of the upper classes, and his exploration of gay life in London.

It's immediately absorbing, with everything seen through the lens of Nick, who is a highly sensitive, highly self absorbed young man. It's also immensely well observed. Here is Nick leaving a party: "He waited a minute longer, in the heightened singleness of someone who has slipped out for a minute from a class, a meeting, ears still ringing, face still solemn, into another world of quiet corridors, the neutral gleam of the day."

It's also Victorian in the exuberance and detail of its characters. There's Gerald, the father of the family he's living with who knows the "price of nothing but champagne and haircuts," (this is definitely a goal I have), or Lady Partridge, a family friend, who examines what Nick is reading with "the mocking contentment of the non-reader." I also enjoyed the gentle influence of the Victorians in the moral voice of the narrator. (For example, Nick at favourite cruising spot " preened in pardonable ways" we are told)

There's some awkwardness when the book bounces ahead a number of years, but Hollinghurst manages to resolve the book's arc neatly and satisfyingly. A great book, that while very long is over far too soon.

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