By Alan Hollinghurst
Started: 13th August 2014
Finished: 16th August 2014
For a few days I was stuck on what to read next, nothing was grabbing my attention on any of my reading lists. Determined to read at least one more university book before picking up a book for pleasure, I finally decided on The Line of Beauty and within two chapters I was hooked.
The book follows the life of Nick Guest from 1983-1987. We start the novel where he is indefinitely staying with his friend Toby’s family, the Feddens. A very wealthy family, Gerald Fedden is a Conservative MP and often invites The Lady herself to his family functions (although she hardly ever attends them). Gerald and his wife, Rachel, have gone on holiday and ask Nick to look after their bipolar daughter, Catherine, who’s going through a rough time. After growing close due to an incident, the family agree to let him stay on a more permanent basis. The novel follows Nick’s life in terms of his sexuality (which is accepted as long as it isn’t talked about) and hidden affairs, two in particular that changed his life and made him feel love.
I was fascinated by Nick’s character and all the secrecy that he went through. He loved the beautiful, whether it was men or art or literature and he loved passionately. I enjoyed seeing him grow from being almost shy and innocent in the beginning, to where he ended up by the end of the novel. Surrounded by money and hypocrisy is a strange place to be in, but I felt he handled it well. For the most part I liked the Feddens in the sense that they remained interesting to me, especially Catherine with her mental illness, her bluntness and her random boyfriends. She was a great contrast against the rest of her family (with the exception of Toby). Leo and Wani were also a great contrast to make in terms of Nick’s lovers, they had some similarities but on the whole they were very different people. Although I would have liked to have seen more of Leo. I could say a lot more about them, but as they are kept hidden I feel it’s a better experience to learn of them as Nick does.
The plot was fairly well paced, sometimes I felt a lot of time was spent on nothing wildly significant with a small important moment embedded to justify this time. However I liked the clear way that the book was split, the years weren’t the divide, but it was the lovers. On the whole the plot held my concentration – with all the secrecy and mystery, I just had to know whether anyone would find out or if more secrets would build on the others, or if anyone else had any secrets to hide. Personally, I would have liked it if this novel was written in a first person narrative rather than a third person – just to see exactly how Nick was handling everything – but I found I was still able to make a connection with the characters regardless.
A moment in the novel that really stood out for me was the family holiday to France. There was just something about the way this was written, with all the different situations and people all under one roof. For me, it was the most exciting and intriguing part of the book. However, I also did love the ending of the novel, especially the last page. It was just beautifully written and was a wonderful way to end the book (even if it was left mostly open).
Once again I have been surprised by a book on my reading list. It felt like I was reading more for pleasure than necessity, however I must admit that my mind did wander occasionally. It’s a fantastic novel of sexuality, secrets, hypocrisy, money and even included the sensitive topic of AIDS, as Hollinghurst brings together every element of the characters lives.