March 21, 2005

Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty

The Booker (now Man Booker) Prize juries have never steered me wrong. I’ve read 4 of the last 15 winners and every one has been a superior work of fiction – Ondatje’s The English Patient, Roy’s The God of Small Things, Atwood’s The Blind Assassin and now Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty. Hollinghurst’s novel takes us into the spirit of the 1980’s. With its twin focus on Thatcherism and the outbreak of AIDS, we get a luxuriously written moral novel that takes us into a world centered around the cold, fleeting ecstasy of lavish fetes and taboo-breaking sex. But the lifestyles of the Feddens and Nick Guest (the primary characters) are impermanent constructions built upon certain types of blindness. They collapse. And when they do, they take many beautiful people from various stations of society with them. And of course many others suffer and perish from the damage these vacuous souls leave in their wake.

The few negative words I’ve seen written about this book have tended to fault the author for getting too tied up in describing the supposedly glamorous world that his characters inhabit. These critics get a little bored with detailed tales of party after party after party. But to me, including these in the book is entirely worthwhile. It reinforces how the spectacular or illicit can quickly become mundane. And when that occurs, the continual need for grander and more exciting experiences, and ever-deeper beautiful discoveries, can lead to a lack of focus on other affairs. And that can lead to catastrophe.

The sex scenes might shock certain readers, but they are no more graphic than those in Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library (which also received critical acclaim).

I recommend this book very highly. It’s interesting as an historical observation of society in the mid-1980’s, a period in which AIDS, Reaganism and Thatcherism were changing much of the world. The morality of the book is complicated, and could spark many interesting discussions. And it’s an interesting and unusually fine addition to the enormous body of literature that follows in the tradition of Henry James. But more than any of that, it’s beautifully written. The author has a remarkable ability to say deep, lush, and passionate things succinctly. He’s one of the best prose stylists writing today.

Posted by armand at March 21, 2005 11:12 AM | TrackBack | Posted to Books

Post a comment

Remember personal info?