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Old 4th Dec 2004, 21:33   #5
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Join Date: 18 Aug 2004
Location: Walsall
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Default The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

An outstanding novel indeed, truly a magnificent piece of work, a novel deserving of praise and the recognition that the Booker 2004 prize gives it. Brilliantly written, Alan Hollinghurst could describe the back of a cornflake packet and it would be interesting, the descriptive passages coupled with a witty yet fully engaging character dialogue make this novel a real reading pleasure. Undoubtedly homo- erotic in places, sometimes graphically so, the narrative never goes too far into the lurid to make reading uncomfortable; in fact the whole Gay experience is so well handled, so efficiently written with the exemplary narrative that it is a delight to have the whole experience of - for me- a hitherto shadowy world of homosexual life made crystal clear. Hollinghurst's main character lives in eighties London and the eighties are summed up to perfection in everyway - all the images of the eighties are there, the Tories with Margaret Thatcher, Stockbrokers, Yuppies drinking champagne and snorting cocaine. Yet all those stereotypes (if they are stereotypes for one can find these reference points easily in any history of eighties Britain) don't appear to make the narrative clich├ęd at all, especially if one has first hand knowledge of the eighties in London.

The main character Nick has an awakening in the early eighties and we see his rise through the eighties to his decline. The characters in the novel appear to match the times so perfectly - the dawning of the Thatcher age, the rise and rise and then the inevitable fall - summing up the eighties so well indeed. Like looking forward to a huge party, the feeling of great things happening, the party and then the hangover and the cold light of day. Pleasure seemingly without consequence hedonism taken to extreme - there is creeping inevitability to the story and the reader is drawn along as many were in those strange days 20 years ago. The characters start so well with so much to look forward to and they are swept along in the social whirlwind that just so perfectly sums up the age. Sexual awakenings help along the mood of a new age and the heady mix of sex, drugs and wealth beyond limit attract the characters like moths to a flame. Funny yet poignant too I was drawn into the world so brilliantly described by the author, the seasons that change in London match the mood as the narrative eases along, never hurrying to the inevitable conclusion that becomes clear to the reader. I couldn't help but warm to the characters and really feel for them but I couldn't warn them so I too was taken on the journey as well. I felt so superbly engaged with the characters all through the narrative that the plot , thin as it really is didn't matter at all, the characters mattered most of all. Genuinely warm and funny as well the narrative never lingers to allow time for reflection, I fear that if the pace slowed we may see the profligacy, the self-denial or delusion even that runs as a counter thread throughout the novel.

Many reviewers have said that this novel sums up the eighties - it does and does it so well that one is there in the heart of Thatcher's Britain in London's Kensington. The perfection of the eighties rise and fall is mirrored in the lives of the characters drawn for us by the author. I haven't read such an engaging, entertaining and highly evocative novel for a long time. References to Henry James abound - the title is explained by James references in the narrative yet the whole Line of Beauty runs seamlessly throughout - sexual references, the lines of Coke and the fine line between families, loyalty and secrets. Superb in every sense though its eighties references and graphic homosexuality may make it not suitable for every reader I for one feel that it must go into my most favourite list of books. I could not find fault with any aspect though I may too have been carried away as those were in the eighties so perhaps within the novel is a greater lesson for the reader, one of restraint, its hard to fathom. But then again when the nineties came along like a hangover the eighties did seem like a big party gone wrong!!. A must read for all!!
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