Monday, 26 July 2010
The Line of Beauty
IT must be hard to write a book which does not have a single character you feel you like, but Alan Hollinghurst has managed to do just that with The Line of Beauty.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that this novel is a beautifully written, acutely observed account of Thatcher’s Britain. But not the Britain of social deprivation many of us remember.
There’s no unemployment or run-down council estates, for this is an elitist world populated by the wealthy, who are ruthless in their pursuit status and power.
But beneath the smooth, shining surface of their lives all is not as it seems, as Nick Guest discovers when he moves into the Notting Hill home of a Tory MP and his aristocratic wife.
Nick, a brilliant Oxford graduate from an ordinary background, is attracted as much by the Feddens’ lifestyle and possessions as he is by the beauty of their son Toby, a university friend.
Nick is a bit of a chameleon, anxious to keep his place in this new world by pleasing others, by saying and doing the right thing.
But in private his quest for beauty leads him into another world, as he explores his sexuality with a black council worker and an exotic millionaire.
He’s not the only one with secrets, for other characters also have their private and public faces. Alongside homosexuality, Aids and drugs, there’s adultery, political intrigue and fraud, and Hollinghurst examines the issues through the eyes of his characters skilfully and sensitively.
Ultimately, of course, the various worlds collide, and when the crash comes family and friends close ranks to protect their own and it is Nick, the outsider, who becomes the scapegoat.
It was sad and funny, and tender and passionate, but despite the brilliance of the writing, I failed to warm to any of the characters. They were greedy, selfish, self-obsessed, manipulative, unfeeling and uncaring – but (unlike Naomi Alderman’s The Lessons), they stayed in my mind when I stopped reading, and I wondered what would happen to them.
Verdict: Enjoy was not quite the right word for this book. I appreciated the way Hollinghurst writes, his witty observations, the way he conjures up a whole way of life in just a few words. However, I wouldn’t read it again, so it goes on the ‘unwanted’ shelf.