Saturday, October 4, 2008

Book Review: The Line of Beauty

Title: The Line of Beauty
Author: Alan Hollinghurst
Genre: Literary Fiction
Grade: B+

Abbreviated Book Summary (From Flap): It is the summer of 1983, and twenty-year-old Nick Guest has moved into an attic room in the Notting Hill home of the Feddens; conservative Member of Parliament Gerald, his wealthy wife Rachel, and their two children, Toby--whom Nick had idolized at Oxford--and Catherine, highly critical of her family's assumptions and ambitions, who becomes both a friend to Nick and his uneasy responsibility.

As the boom years of the mid-eighties unfold, Nick becomes caught up in the Feddens' world... He finds himself able to pursue his own private obsession with beauty--a prize as compelling to him as power and riches are to his friends... An affair with a beautiful millionaire will change his life drastically and bring into question the larger fantasies of a ruthless decade.

Review: The preemptive assumption of this novel is that Nick is an innocent in the ways of the world--in regards to politics, finance, and romance. The author sets up this character to be seemingly sterotypically innocent describing that everything in life comes to him as a shock. Throughout the book you see that, although Nick is innocent to the "evils" that lurk behind the corporate power structure and elite of society, and never quite knows the proper thing to say, neither does anyone else. The dialogue in this book is scant, and you get the feeling that people are never truly communicating. Toward the end of the book, after the scandal has broken and their personal lives are reeling, people begin to let out their true feelings, and they still aren't saying the right things or understanding what the situation truly calls for.

Throughout the novel Nick has an obsessive internal monologue inside his head, it comes off as irritating at first (so tedious with his constant self-doubts), but you then are lulled to a place where you wonder if that's what you seem like to others, if you come off as tedious and self-loathing. If you're not one who leans toward insecurity then you have to compare yourself to the bombastic and self-absorbed character of Gerald. What Hollinghurst has done is set up charicatures of life--the outsider, the power-hungry, the spoiled elite--and you learn from them that you don't want to be like them. The idea of charicatures is brought up throughout the book as the family has a gallery of photos in their kitchen, and the author reminds you that these people are frozen in time as their larger-than-life personalities.

There are references to the effects of power and money on people, on the way they think and interact with one another. The manic/depressive daughter, Catherine, is led to be the narrator's true voice in this work, calling the upwardly mobile in Parliament "Monsters" rather than "Ministers," and doing her part to call a spade a spade. Catherine ends up being the catalyst that sparks the climax of the book--igniting the public scandal merely by telling the truth. Although Hollinghurst (and the publishers of the book) want you to think this book is about the effects of power and wealth, it's more about the simple truths--are secrets personal or impersonal?

The title of the book, The Line of Beauty, is referenced several times throughout the book, and Nick's quest for beauty in his surroundings and lovers is contantly used to reinforce this idea of what is true beauty. In one ironic use of the phrase Hollinghurst describes a line of cocaine (which is prolific through the last 2/3 of the book) as a line of beauty to Nick. Bringing the reader around, slowly but surely, to realize the age-old truth that beauty can be found anywhere that genuine experiences are had with genuine people.

All in all this was a good book, definitely deserving of prestigious British award of The Man Booker Prize in 2004. I decided upon a B+ rating because the author gets a little heavy-handed, his voice slightly intrusive into the reader's process, and the book is written in such a specific time and a specific place that it looses a touch of its meaning to contemporary readers who didn't fully experience the decadence and pretensions of the 1980's.

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