The Line of Beauty

by Alan Hollinghurst

Paperback, 2005



Call number



Picador (2005), Edition: Reprints, 512 pages


20-year-old Nick Guest moves into an attic room in the Notting Hill home of the Feddens. An innocent in matters of politics and money, he becomes caught up in the Feddins' world: its grand parties, its surprising alliances, its parade of monsters both comic and menacing. In an era of endless possibility, he finds himself able to pursue his own private obssession with beauty--a prize as compelling to him as power and riches are to his friends.

Media reviews

But the plot isn’t the point. This novel’s pleasures are thick and deep, growing out of the brilliant observational powers of the main character.

User reviews

LibraryThing member thorold
It's fascinating to see how much readers disagree about this book: the range of opinions on offer here — from "boring" to "brilliant" — demonstrates the strength of the LT reviewing system when applied to recent, bestselling books; the difficulty of deciding which opinion to trust shows its
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limitations. Obviously, a lot of people decided to read this book because it won a major literary prize, and some of those were readers who wouldn't normally be tempted to try Hollinghurst, and had trouble with the upper-middle-class English setting, the "high" literary style or the (rather minimal) descriptions of gay sex. That probably accounts for most of the "boring" or "disgusted" reviews, but it still leaves a biggish range of opinion from people who did approach it seriously and on its own terms. And I would agree that it is a difficult book to make your mind up about.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Nick Guest is a 21-year-old, gay Oxford graduate in Thatcher's England of 1983. He is temporarily living in the home of his friend Toby, whose father Gerald is a wealthy, conservative Member of Parliament. The story -- at least the first part of it -- deals primarily with Nick's early explorations
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of his sexual identity, as he experiences his first intimate homosexual relationship with a man named Leo. The book also explores wealth and classism, with Nick as a voyeur into Toby's class of wealthy socialites and Leo's working-class family.

Alas, having read through Part I with only mild interest, I just didn't feel like carrying on with this book. None of the characters were particularly likeable. And, although this book was published fairly recently (2004), it seemed as if the "gay story" were meant to either shock or titillate the reader instead of exploring the very real emotional issues that are dealt with in the process of self-discovery and coming out.
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LibraryThing member samfsmith
I’m ashamed to say that I stopped reading this novel in Chapter 8, the second chapter in the second section, about 175 pages in this edition. The reason? boredom.

The boredom was a problem from the start. The characters are not particularly interesting, there’s no plot, and the writing is not
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impressive. Any one of those is usually enough to keep me interested in a literary novel. The novel seems to be an examination of the homosexual lifestyle of the 1980s. So it’s a polemical novel, which means it probably has a point, and that point is probably that promiscuous, unprotected sex is hazardous to your mental and physical health. Well, the author was taking too long to make any point to keep me interested.

Which leaves me asking why this novel even got published. Must have been the male homosexual angle.

Standard disclaimer: I’m nobody, why should you listen to my opinion of this book. It won the Man Booker prize in 2004, so the prize committee liked it. Makes me wonder if it wasn’t a type of affirmative action award - reward this novel because of some perceived slight for this class of book in the past, regardless of it’s real merit.
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LibraryThing member silvius
Beautifully written, but such horrible, worthless characters that I can't bring myself to like the book.
LibraryThing member sarah-e
A story about friendship, money, society, and being out on your own - a pawn in the world's game.

We catch the main character, Nick, in the middle of his coming-of-age. He's out to his family and friends from school, and he's on to a new stage in his life - living with a wealthy friend's parents. I
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don't have much in common with Nick, but reading his story led me to remember the first grown-up decisions I made for myself, the way I asserted myself as an adult, and what I thought I was supposed to do after college graduation. Nick and I didn't make similar choices, but I loved his story. There is so much beauty in the early mistakes we make, our first romances, the ways and places we don't fit in. I didn't expect to like this book, but it drew me in and gave me a story of a character wildly unlike myself, but to whom I could relate quite easily.
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LibraryThing member LadyHax
Hollinghurst has a beautiful, rather lyrical style that saw me sailing through these 500 pages with very little difficulty and with a great appreciation for his prose. What troubled me, however, is that I didn't care much for Nick Guest. He is well-drawn in that he captures that awkwardness one can
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feel in social situations to which we were not born but he is not terribly likeable, largely due to his superficiality and affectedness - and I was not certain this could be entirely written off to his youth. Ultimately, these affectations and his guardedness - his desire to shore up his always precarious position with the Feddens and his old Oxford pals - is his downfall; the climax is ultimately frustrating because he never has the courage to call the upper classes on their hypocrisy and general horridness. Hollinghurst captures the era of the 1980s beautifully; oddly, with all the gushing Tory-love for Thatcher, all I could do is think of my childhood watching the Young Ones and the Goodies, and their criticisms of such Tory regimes - certainly a strange counterpoint!
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LibraryThing member citygirl
This is a very good book that I found compelling and with a complexity that I appreciated the most after I'd turned the last page. Scene: London, the early eighties. A shy, newly out 20(21?) yo Oxford grad finds himself lodging with the posh family of a school chum, the son of an egotistical Tory
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MP. Supposedly working on a thesis on Henry James, Nick Guest (rather obviously named) tries to manage a discreet and active sex life and his place as retainer to a high society family under Margaret Thatcher’s thrall. Without adopting or rejecting their political philosophy, he adores his new family, which adopts him as a sort of useful pet, especially adept in dealing with their mentally ill daughter, someone they do not particularly want to deal with. Like many very good books, its impact is not felt until it is over. I have particular admiration for the way Hollinghurst ended the story: with a bang. It was mostly a pleasure to read. Some details seemed tedious until I realized how they underscored the effect of the conclusion. It’s a book that leaves you thinking. Really, what more can you ask?
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LibraryThing member bodachliath
Sometimes one has to admit that one's preconceptions about a book are entirely wrong. Despite having read most of the Booker winners I had been oddly reluctant to tackle this one, partly because I had heard about its graphic descriptions of gay sex and that is just not a subject that interests me.
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This book confounded such baseless expectations, and the final part in particular is very moving. I can't really do justice to the book in a short review, for which I apologise.

This story of Nick Guest, a young man whose position as a lodger in the house of a Tory MP in Kensington puts him at the periphery of various powerful circles at the height of the Thatcher government in the 80s, works on many different levels. On the surface it is a study of these elites, how they operate and how ruthlessly they ditch those who no longer serve them, on another it is a gay coming of age story, in which the shadow of AIDS inevitabily looms, and a third is as a tribute to Henry James.

I was struck by a paragraph where Nick is trying to justify his vision of an artistic film of a James book (The Spoils of Poynton) to a rich but philistine potential backer who has just told him that the story "kinda sucks":
"'Does it...?' said Nick; and, trying to be charming, 'It's just like life, though, isn't it - maybe too like life for a ... conventional movie. It's about someone who loves things more than people. And who ends up with nothing, of course. I know it's bleak, but then I think it's probably a very bleak book, even though it's essentially a comedy.".

Nick could equally be talking about the book in which he is the central character, which does contain some brilliant satire, but is ultimately rather tragic.
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LibraryThing member actonbell
A gorgeously written book. Since so many people before me have provided such complete summaries, I will simply pick out one of many paragraphs that moved me.

"What really was his understanding with Wani? The pursuit of love seemed to need the cultivation of indifference. The deep connection between
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them was so secret that at times it was hard to believe it existed. He wondered if anyone knew--had even a flicker of a guess, an intuition blinked away by its own absurdity. How could anyone tell? He felt there must always be hints of a secret affair, some involuntary tenderness or respect, a particular way of not noticing each other...He wondered if it ever would be known, or if they would take the secret to the grave. For a minute he felt unable to move, as if he were hypnotized by Wani's image..."

And the paragraph that alludes to the novel's title--

"The double curve was Hogarth's 'line of beauty', the snakelike flicker of an instinct, of two compulsions held in one unfolding movement. He ran his hand down Wani's back. He didn't think Hogarth had illustrated this best example of it, the dip and swell --- he had chosen harps and branches, bones rather than flesh. Really it was time for a new Analysis of Beauty".

This novel is so much more than I'd expected. It depicts London in the 1980s, during the socially conservative Margaret Thatcher years. There's an undercurrent of racism and class snobbery and all that hypocrisy, and of course homophobia and the tragic spread of AIDS.

Nick Guest is aptly named, since he is always the outsider. He is living with his friend (not lover) Toby and his family, in the opulent surroundings and society of the upper class, while he writes his thesis on the style of Henry James. Toby's father Gerald is a member of parliament who is eventually implicated in a couple scandals. It also comes out that Nick, while living under the same roof, has been having a homosexual affair with the son of a famously rich man. Gerald scapegoats Nick, and in the end, the friendships Nick had held onto for years are exposed as meaningless charades, while his closest lovers die. Everything comes to an end, as Nick's young life will, too. It's all so sad, but also so beautifully written. This story will stay with me for quite some time.
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LibraryThing member yooperprof
Alan Hollinghurst updates "The Great Gatsby" in this 2004 Booker Prize winner. Set in Margaret Thatcher's Britain of the 1980s, the novel shows young Nick from the provinces ingratiating himself with the rich and powerful, while at the same time exploring London's free-spirits gay scene. There's
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exquisite writing here: beautiful scene painting as Nick becomes aware of hypocrisy among his political friends and as the darkness of AIDS casts a shadow on his private life. (At times, you may be reminded of Andrew Holleran's "Dancer from the Dance".) Hollinghurst confirms his position as one of the finest writers working in Britain today.
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LibraryThing member lilithcat
Hollinghurst does a tremendous job of describing Thatcherite England, the greed, the ambition, the deception, the corruption, and the impact of all this on Nick Guest, whose last name is a sort of metaphor - he's a guest in the house and lives and world of the Feddens, a guest whose welcome lasts
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as long as they can use him.
None of the characters are particularly likeable, but they are all so well-done that we are nevertheless interested in them and what happens to them. One is drawn inexorably into this book; I could barely put it down.
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LibraryThing member rocketjk
Hollinghurst writes beautifully and perceptively, and the story/protagonist really allows a heterosexual reader (at least this one) to get an insight into what it is like to be gay in a straight society, especially, perhaps, during the 80s, when the book takes place, a time when the idea of being
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unashamedly "out" was still a fairly new idea that the straight world was still getting used to. So many little assumptions, so many off-hand comments, often made innocently but still serving to remind the gay person in the room that he/she is still considered an "other." The book begins as a tour de force, and then settles down for many, many pages to add on small observations amid seemingly minor and repetitive story points, until finally adding up to a very powerful ending. The problems with the book, for me, were that that middle portion really did begin to get repetitive, despite the beautiful writing. I thought the point had been made and then continued to be made again and again until I was ready for the story to resume already. It is all made good at the end, but still, there was a period of reading when I felt restless. The other problem, for me, is that the book takes place mainly among the English upper class. I kind of feel like the foibles of the rich, as humorously as they're examined here, are sort of easy pickings. At any rate, I have less interest in the troubles of the rich than I have in the experiences of the regular walking around folk, as it were. Those are personal sticking points only, however. This is a book to be highly--very highly--recommended.
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LibraryThing member sanddancer
A young gay man from an average middle class background mingles with the rich and powerful in Thatcher's 80s. The main character is a pretentious snob who it is hard to like. The rest of the characters are equally unlikeable - I'm struggling to think of a single one who had any redeeming features.
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This made it a hard book to love as I really didn't care what happened to any of them and wasn't sorry to see their demise. However, despite not liking this book much, images and characters from the book have stayed in my memory and it has created a lasting impression on me, where books I've enjoyed more have been more forgettable.
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LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
The main character in Hollinghurst's book is Nicholas Guest who as the story begins, is starting is PhD or MA work (I'm not really sure) in English, studying style in the works of Henry James. Nicholas is gay, and lives as a boarder in the house of one of his school friends Toby Fedden, whose dad
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Gerald is an up-and-comer MP. The time frame covered in this book is during the time of PM Margaret Thatcher, set in England. also in the house are Catherine, Toby's whacko sister and Rachel, Gerald's wife. Although only a boarder, Nick is infatuated with the life of the upper crust even though he is the product of parents who are small-time and small-town antiques dealers. Yet Nick doesn't really belong in the same world as the Feddens, and he doesn't belong in the world of his parents, either. This carries over into Nick's personal gay life as well...his first lover is Leo, who comes from a poor family, then he moves on to the son of a millionaire who enjoys the same tastes in life. I began to more fully understand Nick after I read the following:

"...Hogarth's line of beauty, the snakelike flicker of an instinct, of two compulsions held in one unfolding movement." (176)

There are many moments in the story where Nick seems to sense just how shallow & vulgar all of the upper-crust trappings are and how this shallowness spills over onto the people by whom he is surrounded but yet while he's aware, he just can't seem to escape.

I thought this book was very very good; my chief complaint was that there seemed to be a lot of extraneous people here who sort of cluttered up the flow of the reading because you can't remember who they were. But on the whole, this was a fine work that literature readers should enjoy.

Definitely recommended.
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LibraryThing member bobbieharv
2004 Booker prize winner. An amazingly written book. He drops you down into all the detail of a scene, not only physical description but all the little gestures and language people use to subtly communicate. The rise and fall of a Thatcher politician, seen through the eyes of a gay friend of his
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son, paralleled by the intrigues of gay love and the advent of AIDs. The addictions of power, sex, and drugs.
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LibraryThing member Fluffyblue
It took me two attempts to read this book but I'm glad I persisted with it. I really enjoyed it in the end. It's about a boy who stays with a family who are quite wealthy and the father is a politician (from what I can recall). The boy is gay and actually falls in love with his friend. The book is
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about how the boy turns into a young man and forms relationships with various individuals during a time when AIDs was hitting the headlines, and the effect that had on the gay community.

The book is funny in part, and very well written.
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LibraryThing member shihtzu
Story of a young gay man who experiences the sex, drug and party scene of 1980s London during the Thatcher years. He rejects his middle-class roots and Oxford training as he becomes more and more involved with the family of a wealthy member of parliament and Thatcher loyalist. This was made into a
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pretty good British mini-series.
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LibraryThing member kylenapoli
If you strip away the temporal setting and the specifically British details, this reads as any outsider's view of the conservative rich. The same hidden prejudices and hypocrisy are all around us every second of every day. I wanted Nick to show some dawning enlightenment about all of this and
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demonstrate a more effective degree of self-awareness -- usually being or feeling like an outsider would allow for a critical point of view -- but Nick is too eager to join the group to see the hollowness and faults in them or in himself.
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LibraryThing member Rob_Dunbar
Frustrated by his first brush with romance, Nick Guest feels he’s been “swept to the brink of some new promise,” and the moment is profoundly poignant. Though “The Line of Beauty” runs through a period scarcely more than thirty years in the past, time already seems to have rendered
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Margaret Thatcher’s England as misty and distant as something out of “Brideshead Revisited.” Could the world really have changed this much so quickly? That misty quality is deceptive. In this penetrating and mature work, Alan Hollinghurst employs a hard, sharp wit to delineate the sort of moral bankruptcy that attended the early days of the HIV pandemic. As in Hollinghurst’s “The Swimming Pool Library,” the contrast between the rather savage tale and his complex and contemplative style proves riveting.

At Oxford, the youthful main character obsesses over a friend from a wealthy background. Visiting their home, Nick finds himself seduced by the pleasures of wealth and yearns to “steep himself in the difficult romance of the family.” Someone should have warned him to be careful what he wished for. He becomes a chronic houseguest, and his initiation into the world of erotic love (for which he’s “achingly ready and completely unprepared”) is concomitant with his passage into a realm of privilege and prejudice. As in all his work, the author adroitly steers the tone through personal drama to scathing social satire. Along the way, he veers into a veritable tour of British literary icons from Austin to Waugh – with an especially satisfying journey through the heart of Henry James territory – without ever diminishing the impact of his own remarkable voice.
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LibraryThing member whirled
So the rich are greedy, hypocritical and unstintingly self-serving - who knew? This plodding epic attempts to expose and perhaps glamorize a world of drugs, sex and idle snobbery, yet one ends up longing to see every last venal character shot down in flames - including the supposedly sympathetic
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hero, Nick Guest. Hollinghurst is like an Anglo Bret Easton Ellis arriving 20 years late for the coke-addled party. The pace finally picks up in the final hundred pages, but this is still the least worthy winner of the Booker Prize in recent memory.
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LibraryThing member smarlaiswells
The most enjoyable feature of the book for me was Hollinghurst's extremely perceptive attention to the nuances of human interactions. It is true that the upshot of this attention is often a rather banal point about the hypocrisies of the rich and powerful. And, as others have commented, the book
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starts to feel repetitive around its middle. But just when you think the story is not going anywhere, there is just enough development to reward your sticking with the book. And fans of the high literary style will enjoy the finely balanced sentences and psychological exploration. I was somewhat inexplicably drawn into the book and read it surprisingly compulsively. I'm looking forward to trying some of Hollinghurst's others.
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LibraryThing member daveisnotmyname
I was late to reading this and it is not as good as some of his lesser acclaimed books.

While it may provide a good glimpse into the opulence of 1980s UK politics and sound a bell on the AIDS crisis, I felt as much of an eavesdropper on the story as Nick felt while attending those lavish political
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I couldn't figure out why the Feddens kept Nick around as long as they had or why Wani was appealling in any way.
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LibraryThing member sheilazhere
I could not finish this book. Story of homosexuality in England during the Thatcher era. Recommende by Nita. Much too explicit for me
LibraryThing member littlegeek
Reminded me of Brideshead Revisted a lot. Same nostalgia for things that weren't really so great. The lyrical tone makes sympathetic the morally corrupt Torys and party boys that people this world. Kind of like how The Wire makes you like drug dealers. Beautifully written, I quite enjoyed reading
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it, but afterwards really felt like I needed a shower after spending so much time with people so willing to go to indefensible extremes.
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LibraryThing member elmyra
This was a weird one. Definitely appropriate reading in the middle of a general election. There is something ever so slightly Adrian-Mole-ish about Nick Guest. The entire book narrated from his point of view, and that has two effect: he ever quite established credibility with me, and as a result
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engaging with any of the other characters - as they were portrayed from Nick's point of view - was really hard work.

The plot only really comes together in the final part of the book, when all of the little scenes of people's lives we've been reading for 400 pages are suddenly brought back and connected. This is not so much a criticism as an observation. Parts of the book were un-put-down-able.

The politics of the book is definitely interesting. It gives a glimpse (how well informed I cannot judge) into the lives of the upper class, and I don't think it's only my personal political bias that makes it seem rather unflattering.

A small part of me does wonder how many people picked this up after it won the Booker and threw it down in disgust at the occasionally quite explicit descriptions of gay sex. Hopefully not too many as they would have missed out. It's a good book.

Bechdel: Pass
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

512 p.; 7.76 inches


0330483218 / 9780330483216
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