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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Line of Beauty

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

14 of 22 people found the following review helpful:

March 9, 2006

In many ways "Line of Beauty" compares to a previous Booker Prize-winner, "Atonement" by Ian McEwan. Both feature stellar writing, well-drawn characters, and a very sleepy beginning that puts the reader in mind of Victorian novels. McEwan's sleepy beginning picks up in the second and third acts, leading to a startling revelation. Hollinghurst's sleepy beginning persists right through to the end of the book, without any sort of revelation that could be described as startling.

I'm sure like "Atonement", "Line of Beauty" can be a challenge for an ordinary reader to plow through because it is slow going. Lower-class Nick Guest moves into the upper-class family of his college chum Toby just as Toby's father Gerald is elected to Parliament. The story then follows four years during the Thatcher administration in the mid-1980s as the Fedden family and those around Nick face a few crises.

The problem is the crises aren't particularly interesting or shocking. Gerald is sleeping with his assistant. His former lover Leo dies of AIDS and his current lover Wani is in the process of dying from the disease. That's it. Had this book been published in 1994 instead of 2004 the AIDS angle would have seemed more fresh and surprising, but by now there are plenty of books and movies on the subject so it's not bringing anything new to the table. Gerald's affair, well, that sort of thing has been going on since humans first walked the earth. There's nothing particularly shocking or new about Gerald's affair. If he had been engaging in some kind of really obscene behavior like the cross-dressing politician in McEwan's "Amsterdam" that would have made it a little more fresh.

And then of course this being a novel of the 1980s it falls into the Holy Trinity of '80s stereotypes: greed, coke, and AIDS. Any novel involving the 1980s has to have greedy businesspeople slurping down cocaine like Al Pacino in "Scarface", worrying about AIDS the whole time they're having sex with random strangers. It's like how every '60s novel has to feature hippies, Vietnam protests, and LSD. It may be true, but hasn't it been done to death already? Do we need one more novel covering that same tired ground?

In the hands of a lesser writer this might have made the book tedious, but Hollinghurst is a very gifted author. His sentences are beautiful. Even if he is plowing over the same old ground, at least he's doing it with style.

Would I recommend the book? Sure, just so long as you know what you're getting into. Expect beautiful writing, but no real surprises.

That is all.

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