The Line of Beauty has ratings and reviews. Jessica said: I started this last night, heading home after one of the most dreadful evenings in. Alfred Hickling on sex and snorting in Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty. Everyone who has read The Line of Beauty will recall the party at which the young protagonist, Nick Guest, dances with Mrs Thatcher. Before.

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The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

A few pages into Alan Hollinghurst’s novel, something remarkable happens. The gay hero, Nick Guest, is on his way to a blind date but is waylaid by his land-lady’s daughter, a highly strung neurotic with a history of self-harm.

Smartly assuming control of the situation, Nick relieves her of the contents of the cutlery drawer, and chivalrously holds her hand until she calms down. This touching scene is unlikely to have occurred in one of Hollinghurst’s previous books: Hollinghurst’s debut novel, The Swimming Pool Librarywas lauded for its startling conflation of high literary style and low-rent sex, and presented an eye-opening trawl through the London gay scene, from private clubs to public toilets, in the laconic tone of a latter-day Henry James.

The Line of Beauty is not a sequel as such, but picks up where the earlier narrative broke off, in August Aids was never even alluded to in the earlier novel; here it ominously clouds the narrative.

And those readers who admire Holling-hurst’s style but weary of his sex drive even the Gay Times condemned hollinghrust erotic passages of his previous book as “selfish” and “dull” will be pleased to discover it is a work of social nuance rather than sexual lin. And for once, the wider political context is embraced rather than ignored – not only is Mrs Thatcher a pervasive influence throughout, she even puts in a personal appearance.


Between the lines

Although the book takes time to explore Hollinghurst’s principal obsessions with Eros and aesthetics, its main theme is the climate of giddy success among well-to-do Tories between the electoral victories of and Gerald Fedden has just entered Parliament, hotly tipped as ministerial material, and is determined to fulfil two major political ambitions – to have a latex likeness on Spitting Image and to host the Lady at home for supper.

Gerald’s ignominious fall precludes the puppet, but the PM’s visit is the highlight of his career. It’s also one of several outstanding social set-pieces within the book, when, having teased the reader with various hints and glimpses, Hollinghurst finally ushers her on in a lavishly embroidered jacket, which prompts Gerald’s rebellious daughter to waspishly remark that “she looks like a country and western singer”. The Line of Beauty is a novel of eventful gatherings rather than propulsive action, and in these situations Hollinghurst proves to be one of the sharpest observers of privileged social groupings since Anthony Powell.

Perhaps it is in homage to A Dance to the Music of Time that he calls his ambient narrator Nick, while the surname Guest alludes to his lne status as a tolerated interloper – an Oxford friend of the Feddens’ son, who rents a room in the family’s Notting Hill og. Despite the fact that the Feddens host private recitals in the drawing room and keep a Guardi above the mantelpiece, they are fundamentally philistines, for whom art is a means of social advancement.

Nick, meanwhile, is an unattached aesthete searching for an outlet for his sensibility. At first he makes half-hearted progress on a thesis about Henry James, but later he floats into the orbit, and bedroom, of Wani Ouradi, a glamorous Lebanese heir to a supermarket fortune, with whom he formulates vague plans to found a production company. With characteristic pretension, Nick takes the company name, Ogee, from the sinuous double curve cited by Hogarth as the “line of beauty”, though Nick’s favoured example of the form in nature is the point at which a man’s lower back cleaves to his bottom.


Not surprisingly, the venture fails to inspire much confidence in his parents, for whom “being sort-of the art adviser on besuty non-existent magazine was as obscure and unsatisfactory as being gay”. Nor does it impress the principal underwriter, Wani’s father, a spectacularly vulgar Lebanese grocer who tellingly mishears the word as “orgy”.

The Line of Beauty – Wikipedia

The Ogee organisation is in fact no more than a rich boy’s distraction – part production company, part publishing house, but really no more than a nebulous excuse for its directors to Hoover up vast quantities of cocaine. If Hollinghurst’s previous novel, The Spellwas the slightly embarrassing story of a last-ditch, middle-aged dalliance with ecstasy, The Line of Beauty is a sour celebration of the drug that kept the economy booming: Unfortunately, the illicit glamour of these scenes wears off as quickly as the drug itself, to the point where the incessant snorting takes over from the sex as the most mechanically repetitive element of Hollinghurst’s writing.

And when he chances to write about drugs and sex together, the outcome is dire: But The Line of Beauty is a long book, and even if you skip the sex and the snorting there’s plenty left to enjoy. For the first time, there is a clear sense that Hollinghurst has extended his powers to create a universe rather than a clique; and though it adopts a highly privileged perspective, the novel has sufficient breadth to evoke the full social spectrum of s Britain – gay and straight, rich and poor.

Ogee ogee ogee, oi oi oi.