The Line of Beauty
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Comparison: Edmund White, Patrick Gale, Adam Mars-Jones.
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The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
A few pages into Alan Hollinghurst's novel, something re-markable 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: first because there were few women in them; and second because nothing would be allowed to get in the way of a passage of graphic gay sex.
Hollinghurst's debut novel, The Swimming Pool Library (1988), was 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 1983: "the last summer of its kind there was ever to be".
If The Swimming Pool Library was the party novel, The Line of Beauty deals with the inevitable hangover. 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 the 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 urgency. 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.
About the Author
Publication date16th April 2004
More books by Alan Hollinghurst
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