As I was reading Alan Holinghurst’s ‘The Line of Beauty’ I couldn’t help feeling that, bar the gay sex scenes, this would be the perfect novel to study for ones A levels. It’s got everything. Well defined characters, an topical plot, bits of humor and it is impeccably written. Incidentally I have Hollinghurst’s three main novels ; The Swimming Pool Library, The Folding Start and this one but I have never been able to finish them. Thankfully I got through this one and I loved every second of it.
I am a huge sucker for the well crafted novel. It’s a reason why I love writers such as Iris Murdoch, Anthony Burgess and Tim Winton. Everything has a part to play and as the plot becomes more complex you find yourself more engaged in the book.
Nick Guest, who comes from a humble family, is a permanent resident at up and coming Tory politician Gerald Fedden and his slightly dysfunctional family. Although Nick is clearly out of place with their lifestyle, he is friends with Gerald’s son Toby and the family accept him as an extra son. Because of this Nick feels privileged to know such a class of family so intimately and feels that he is part of a special world.
Nick is also gay and throughout the novel he embarks on relationships with two very different men. One is the middle class Leo, which is short-lived and with Wani Ouradi, a product of a nouveau riche family (ironically his father, Bertrand became rich through owning a supermarket chain – a dig at Thatcher or maybe Harrods?) , and has a predilection for cocaine and kinky sex, drags Nick into this seedy underworld.
Eventually the party has to end and Nick discovers that the majority of his gay friends are suffering from AIDS, the Tory government is crippling Britain, Gerald has created a scandal and his daughter, Catherine’s depression gets worse.
Eventually due to the press discovering Nick’s love affair with the supposedly straight Wani, Gerald banishes Nick from his house. A leaving of the garden of Eden.
Hollinhurst’s portrayal of social classes is very reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh’s, that is mocking, slightly cruel and full of dirty secrets. Although not laugh out loud funny, Hollinghurst does bring a smile to one’s lips, especially at the Fedden’s silver wedding anniversary party, where Margaret Thatcher makes an appearance.
Satirical jibes aside, ‘The Line of Beauty’ (which has many connotations in the novel) is the type of novel that resonates with it’s beauty and structure. Not one word or action is out of place and although the novel takes place in the eighties there aren’t any annoying anachronisms, which hinder one from reading the book.
I am a bit hesitant to say generalize but I think there is such a thing called the Classic British Novel, where social classes are dissected and mocked at, while the writing is top notch and the plot unfolds and the reader discovers more secrets. If there is such a genre then Hollinghurst has created a modern benchmark.