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Old 17th May 2007, 9:31   #21
leyla
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

Jerkass, I would persist. I loved this book. Hollinghurst's prose is so rich and beautiful and yet he also manages to inject large amounts of humour in a dry, wry, understated way - for example, the description of Catherine's grandmother who comes across as such a cold snobbish witch. I loved the fact that the characters weren't parodies - the Tory MP was repulsive but not cartoonishly repulsive, and the whole family (apart from Catherine) was so horrific and perfectly shown to be so. I have known someone who could have come from this family and Hollinghurst's description is so spot on, from the effusive, disingenuous, aristocratic politeness to the froideur and stored-up resentments which become apparent when that veneer is torn away. I also thought it depicted Thatcher's Britain in a wonderfully astute way. And I loved the fact that Nick was such a flawed protagonist, hypnotised by the materialistic world of the upper class to the point that he feels ashamed of his own lovely warm supportive family. And Catherine is a classic study of a decent but mentally fragile person destroyed by her stifling family. I would definitely read on, I've read all of Hollinghurst's books and though I love his fabulous prose in all of them, The Line of Beauty was the one which imo offered the most - and the one in which I thought the gay scenes didn't take over the entire book. Lucky you to still have it to finish.

Oops, edited as left out words

Last edited by leyla; 17th May 2007 at 18:31.
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Old 17th May 2007, 9:56   #22
John from Paris
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

Yes, yes, yes, do keep going, Jerkass. "Sex fantasy novels"? Sounds like you've been reading the kind of stuff that was written in the likes of the Daily Express when The Line of Beauty took the Booker. That would apply reasonably to The Swimming Pool Library. But what leyla says is spot on. And here's what I wrote on amazon (in the days before I graduated to cat-litter trays...)

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Much more than "gay sex and Thatcherism"

1988: despite its brilliantly conceived plot, with its unexpected and disquieting twists and turns, despite its impeccably observed dialogue, despite generally being an outstanding début novel, Alan Hollinghurst's The Swimming Pool Library was never remotely in the running for the Booker Prize, or indeed any other major prize, when it came out. The fact that it dealt both very graphically and - distinguishing it from more run-of-the-mill "erotica" - very articulately with homosexuality excluded it from such honours from the word go. Awarding it any of the literary prizes would have been as unthinkable as the Duchess of Kent telling Martina Navratilova how delighted the British people were for a lesbian to have won Wimbledon so many times.

1994: things had progressed sufficiently for the various twilight zones evoked in the equally brilliant, though very different, follow-up, The Folding Star, to reach the Booker shortlist. But it never had any serious chance of winning the prize.

So, ten years on, and Alan Hollinghurst's fourth novel, The Line of Beauty. And suddenly it was all right for a "gay novel" to win the prize. And all right for the Daily Express to trumpet "Booker Won By Gay Sex". And the debate raged in more serious papers as to whether there is a specifically gay sensibility, expressed by "gay writers" in "gay novels".

Whether there is or not, it is a pity for The Line of Beauty to have been reduced to "gay sex and Thatcherism". There is actually less graphic sex than in The Swimming Pool Library, and at the same time a much more searching and subtle analysis of how gay men and their sexuality (rather than just their sex) fit into society, especially privileged society (the first novel tended simply to suggest that they didn't, and that so much the better.)
The novel is also a brilliantly researched and brilliantly detailed satire of the mid-eighties, and a devastating exposure of the price of respectability. The society scenes, especially the wedding anniversary party at the Feddens', stand comparison with Proust. And possibly the most impressive aspect of this novel is the way the feeling of disillusion, and incipient guilt, gradually takes hold of Nick, the main character. Who in many ways remains as elusive as his namesake in The Great Gatsby. How far do his aesthetic interests shield him from opportunism? Here is a character as complex as any in Henry James, to whom the novel pays an explicit debt.

The Swimming Pool Library was deliberately and provocatively titillating. But here is a novel with a far wider scope and field of investigation, whose subtlety and complexity mark a welcome return to really good writing, after the experimental and undeserving Booker winners* of the previous three years.
[*i.e. Peter Carey, True History of the Kelly Gang ; Yann Martel, Life of Pi ; D.B.C.Pierre, Vernon God Little ]
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Old 17th May 2007, 21:43   #23
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

I want to add my encouragement to this thread, Jerkass.

I remember reading The Swimming Pool Library years ago and thinking: if this writer could just be a little less graphic in his gay sex descriptions and expand his boundaries a bit, then he will be a force to be reckoned with.

And with the Line of Beauty, I believe this to be true. One of my best reads for whatever year that was.

NB: I didn't much like the TV adaptation
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Old 17th May 2007, 22:32   #24
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

To John, perhaps I have misunderstood something you said, but I'm not reading anything that anyone has written anywhere. I'm reading The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst. For 75 pages it has been a continuous almost page-by-page juvenile sex fantasy with admittedly some interesting character and social commentary thrown into the mix, and some good writing. If all four characteristics are going to persist page after page for the next several hundreds of pages, I'll find something else to read. Nothing against anyone or anything, but I can do without it. Yes, this may very much be exacty how a young man's mind works in some instances, and, yes, Hollinghurst may be describing it perfectly. It just doesn't interest me as reading material. I can spend all of my time dwelling on sexual fantasy without going through the bother of reading about it, thanks very much. Er...if you see what I mean...
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Old 17th May 2007, 22:39   #25
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

And just in case anyone gets any incorrect impressions, in reference to Leyla, for example, I don't care about "gay sex" potentially overwhelming the entire book. It's sex generally. Nice topic, part of everyday life (allegedly) and therefore fits into your average novel to some degree. Perhaps not every page, however. No, I have nothing against sex. You know, the more I try to qualify what I'm saying, the worse this is getting.
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Old 18th May 2007, 9:36   #26
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

My recollection is that the sex doesn't persist that heavily in later parts of the book; there's more of the family's dysfunction, more political shenanigans (sp?), more about the non-sexual aspects of relationships. That said, I wasn't as enamoured of the book as a whole as leyla and JfP seem to be - it seemed to me a bit sensationalist and (dare I say it?) Jilly-Cooper-esque. I think I gave it . I did enjoy it in a studenty, watching-soap-operas kind of a way.

I suppose, as with any other activity, if you're not enjoying yourself and you don't think it's going to get any more pleasurable, you should stop. Personally, I found it satisfying enough to want to get to the conclusion.
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Old 18th May 2007, 11:12   #27
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

I thought it was pants as I couldn't believe in the absic conceit of a middle class kid finding himself in the bosom of an old money family. From my fleeting experiences of meeting old money at university, they could be perfectly friendly and decent - but wouldn't let anyone into the close circle of intimacy unless they were of similar stock.

I also found the sex and drugs tiresome.

I also found a severe lack of empathy with anyone.

And I thought the chunking into three sections conveniently sidestepped the need for character development - you could just assume that the development had happened somehow. A bit like the "five years later" caption on bad 1980s films.

And then the idea that it presents a wonderful portrait of the 1980s... I found it more redolant of the 1970s. The 1980s was about new money and setting up businesses. Black ash and chrome. The Smiths. Not old monied families, family banks and dancing waltzes with Thatcher.
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Old 18th May 2007, 12:15   #28
John from Paris
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

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Originally Posted by Jerkass View Post
To John, perhaps I have misunderstood something you said, but I'm not reading anything that anyone has written anywhere. I'm reading The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst.
Yes, Jerkass, sorry, I did assume you were quite probably reading the book you were reading. But I just wondered if you had perhaps been somehow pre-conditioned into thinking it was all about "gay sex and Thatcherism" (and that, not having got to the Thatcherism, you were having trouble getting through the gay sex... as it were...)
It'll be interesting to hear whether you read on... and, if so, what you think.

I don't think it can ever be that easy to read about things of which one has absolutely zero direct experience. I really couldn't relate to the recurrence of drugs in The Line of Beauty; intellectually, yes, I can tell myself that there are people who do hard drugs, but that intellectualisation is not enough... And I admit I had the same reaction to that very explicit scene of lesbian sex towards the end of The Night Watch.


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[...] I couldn't believe in the absic conceit of a middle class kid finding himself in the bosom of an old money family.
I really liked the word absic. Before I even reached for my dictionary, I was looking forward to using it. Then I realised it was meant to be basic... Please don't change it, though, Mr HG...
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Old 18th May 2007, 13:44   #29
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

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Originally Posted by John from Paris View Post

I don't think it can ever be that easy to read about things of which one has absolutely zero direct experience. I really couldn't relate to the recurrence of drugs in The Line of Beauty; intellectually, yes, I can tell myself that there are people who do hard drugs, but that intellectualisation is not enough... And I admit I had the same reaction to that very explicit scene of lesbian sex towards the end of The Night Watch.
Hmmm, I see your point, but I'm not sure that gay readers have quite the same difficulty reading explicit scenes of a heterosexual nature, eg having children, getting married, let alone intimacy.
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Old 18th May 2007, 15:12   #30
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

Quote:
Originally Posted by John from Paris View Post
I don't think it can ever be that easy to read about things of which one has absolutely zero direct experience. I really couldn't relate to the recurrence of drugs in The Line of Beauty; intellectually, yes, I can tell myself that there are people who do hard drugs, but that intellectualisation is not enough... And I admit I had the same reaction to that very explicit scene of lesbian sex towards the end of The Night Watch.
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Originally Posted by MikeMk1 View Post
Hmmm, I see your point, but I'm not sure that gay readers have quite the same difficulty reading explicit scenes of a heterosexual nature, eg having children, getting married, let alone intimacy.
I agree withe MikeMk1. I don't think it's about the 'ease' of reading about something one is personally unfamiliar with. I would think it's the frequency and the reiteration of particular scenes - of whatever subject matter - that would be bothersome, and somewhat unnatural.
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