The Line Of Beauty - Allan Hollinghurst

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The Line Of Beauty - Allan Hollinghurst

Post by Graham on Fri Apr 06, 2018 3:05 pm

This comes with great praise on the jacket: ‘masterpiece’, ‘great English stylist’. Before I give my contrary opinion, the book is set in the Thatcher glory years, seen through the eyes of Nick a young Oxford graduate and aesthete, and centres round the household of Gerald Fedden, one of her aspiring ministers. My doubts began on page three although even the title had me wondering with its multiple meanings. Hollinghurst has a habit of introducing characters and events in such a way that leaves you wondering what or whom he is talking about. It always gets resolved but the effect is annoying. This is probably part of his great English style. So, for instance we meet Catherine Fedden without knowing where she fits into the family with whom Nick is lodging. We only learn Nick is gay through his answer to a lonely penis ad. To these little annoyances were added two larger ones. As I progressed into the novel I realised there was no plot and no remotely likeable character to root for.

There is also a lot of gay sex. Now I’m as fond of gay sex as the next man but as my friend Julian says, ‘I wish they wouldn’t keep stuffing it down my throat.’ The novel doesn’t come to life until they are en famille in their French manoir along with Nick and his unrevealed lover Wani. It almost threatens to become a French farce with several inappropriate affairs. Hollinghurst’s prose is extremely dense and his particular schtick is depicting the secret motivations behind every phrase and gesture. It’s meant to be a satire. If you remember the 80’s this is how it was. No satire involved. Ministers did get caught with their trousers down. It was cocaine fuelled. The last hundred pages involved me more as the papers have a heyday with ‘gay sex romps’ and ‘insider dealing.’ The whole shebang disintegrates, and Aids decimates Nick’s world.

As a coda, having just started a Sunday Times bestseller whose pages fly by with nary an adjective I can now grudgingly appreciate Hollinghurst’s ability to layer his prose with such density of meaning. Even the derided adverb gets innovative use. Swimmers jump ‘promisingly’ onto rafts. Conversation continues ‘thinly.’ There are many even more unusual but always telling juxtapositions. You will need to keep a dictionary handy too, unless of course you are as clever as Hollinghurst.

My verdict – read it as a case study in beefing up your descriptive prose.

Graham
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