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Old 19th Oct 2004, 23:53   #1
John Self
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Join Date: 27 Jun 2003
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Default Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

(My Amazon review, just submitted, hence references to other reviews etc.: )

Alan Hollinghurst's Booker win for The Line of Beauty is deserved on the basis that his second novel, The Folding Star, probably should have won ten years ago, so this is a late recompense. I'm not sure it's the best book on the shortlist (I preferred Colm Tóib*n's The Master), but it's certainly a return to form for Hollinghurst after the underdone and clumsy The Spell.

The plot, such as it is, is well summed up by others: naive 20-year-old man (boy, really) lodges with Tory MP and his family at the height of Margaret Thatcher's power, from 1983 to 1987. Has various love affairs with various men and gets treated badly by the wicked Conservative family in the end. Its appeal of course is not in the plot, nor in the childish notion (espoused by a reviewer below) that characters should be likeable to make a book readable. It's in the writing: Hollinghurst is one of the best stylists there is, effortlessly tossing off scraps of description (Thatcher's "beaked and crowned" head) that others would kill for. He's also capable of punctuating the beautiful prose with brilliant jokes, which somehow have all the more force for their appearance in such carefully weighted sentences and structures.

This is enough to be going on with. However at 500 pages the book does occasionally drag, and I couldn't help feeling that - like Cloud Atlas on the Booker shortlist, but unlike Tóib*n's fully achieved The Master - the whole was somewhat less than the sum of the parts, and that it was four parts achievement and one part momentum (and don't we anyway tend to praise a long book simply because we have got through it?); but for me the tipping point wasn't quite reached. I also admit, with full philistine shame, that main character Nick's constant displays of erudition on Henry James, the ogee (the 'line of beauty' of the title) and other things besides could have been a little less frequent for my liking. It may be, of course, that it's a grower and a keeper, but at 500 pages, you'll forgive me if I leave it a couple of years before I try to find out.
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