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Old 19th May 2007, 20:12   #41
maxivida
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

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I saw him as selfish and dislikeable for allowing himself to be seduced by this beauty despite recognising that the people who owned it were prejudiced, narrow-minded bigots.
I don't think he really had a choice. The pursuit of beauty is Nick's raison d'être; he doesn't really care who owns it, or even if he does a bit, it's ultimately irrelevant because the moral issue is beside the point. Art is above morals.

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Sometimes they even exhibited distaste for gays, so that Nick was selling his soul by taking their hospitality. I just think that's a cold, calculating, materialistic thing to do - he was practically prostituting his real self and beliefs for the material benefits (including access to classical aesthetic beauty in the form of art and antiques) he was receiving in exchange.
But Nick Guest is not a gay rights activist, on the contrary. His real self is someone obsessed with beauty, he has no beliefs but in aesthetics. The material benefits are certainly something he never rejected, but I think that can be put down to the shallowness of youth, as Oryx said; he doesn't hesitate to take advantage of the circumstances he found himself in, but Hollinghurst doesn't present it as a vital character trait: if Nick is frivolous, it's because everyone else is frivolous too and he tends to go with the flow.

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The fact that he was aware that they were philistines yet continued to lap up their hospitality reflected badly on him.
From a higher moral ground, certainly. But if you take the people that surround him, the politicians who advocate family values and cheat on their wives, the unscrupulous entrepreneurs dealing with obscene amounts of money and not hesitating to break the law for the sake of profit, emotionally crippled spoilt brats born with silver spoons in their mouths who have no regard for anyone but themselves - well, his willingness to lap up the hospitality of philistines hardly seems a character flaw.

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His occasional babysitting of Catherine did not, imo, make up for the fact that he parasitically took free lodgings(...)
Occasional? I got the impression that he was at her beck-and-call from beginning to end. Even if he wasn't literally taking care of her every day, he was the only person who cared about her, much more than any member of her family. And he didn't take free lodgings. He was paying for his room (the text mentions the exact sum) even though he was an unemployed student. Whenever he gives the money to Catherine's mother she says "Oh you really don't need to" but never fails to accept it.

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Most people I like and respect would not tolerate a society of bigots in order to partake of their riches. He drank at the devil's fountain and paid for it.
I know that this is going to sound strange and perhaps more than a little biased, so I'll be very careful: let's say that most of the people I know wouldn't either, but most of the gay people I know wouldn't be that prejudiced. Yet again, I have to stress - it isn't about the riches at all; the material element in this is practically irrelevant. But there is something I like to call the "Bosie syndrome" that is a recurrent phenomenon in lives of most of my gay friends. Just like Wilde pursued the utterly immoral, frivolous, mean, superficial Bosie Douglas for the sake of his youthful energy and aesthetic / sexual appeal, a lot of gay men seem to be disposed to do the same in their relationships, in spite of reason. In most cases (as in Wilde's) such pursuits end in utter emotional disaster. Although Nick finds his own Bosie in Wani, his real temptation is the pursuit of artistic beauty, although it brings him nothing but misery. He turns the blind eye to the hypocrisy of those around him until he becomes the victim; and sure enough, he seizes the opportunity to throw it all in Gerald's face - all those things he kept silent about for years - just because he's got nothing left to lose. But ultimately, I can't escape the feeling that, as he's leaving their house, he has no regrets. Hollinghurst's ending is an exquisite tour de force: utterly humiliated and pretty certain that he's fatally ill, his hero finds it in his heart to praise beauty one last time as something much greater than all our mortal existances, as the only constant monument to goodness in the history of mankind.
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Old 20th May 2007, 10:45   #42
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

Interesting, maxi. Your argument is certainly intelligent and articulate. I think we'll have to agree to disagree about whether Nick is selfish/self-serving or not. But we actually agree on many things - namely the abject vileness of the family Nick stayed with, his obsession with beauty, the fact that he was intelligent and cultured, and, most importantly, the fact that Hollinghurst produced a masterpiece. His prose is to die for - there's not a word that isn't apt and well thought out. Maybe this is why I was so down on the book I read after it - after Hollinghurst's sumptuous language and immense knowledge about art and architecture, most other novels seem banal and mediocre.
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Old 20th May 2007, 13:09   #43
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

Absolutely. It's the best novel I've read in a long, long time.
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Old 24th Jun 2007, 23:09   #44
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

I still haven’t decided if it’s a great book or “just” very good. There were places, where I thought it dragged a little – but quite possibly they were a necessary ballast.

I agree that Nick is a flawed character, but I don’t agree it’s impossible to sympathise and empathise with him. My general impression of him is that of someone homeless, who tries to find his place using as a compass his sense of beauty. Many people in this thread said that he tolerated the philistinism of the Feddens’ and their ilk because it was the price he had to pay for the access to the objects of art and cultural life. It’s true. But his attachment to this family isn’t a cold calculation – he isn’t blind to their shortcomings, but he genuinely cares for them, in his own way. It is a misplaced affection, and, it turns out, one-sided. Nick isn’t bothered by his strange position in the Feddens’ family, because he is used, or maybe resigned, to the fact that little is certain and solid in his life:
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(...)[Martine’s] patient expression, which registered with Nick, as he went down the stairs, as decidedly adult. It must be the face of a steady happiness, a calm possession, that he couldn’t imagine, or even exactly hope for.
Or another fragment, which reveals that there is as much of a “painfully eager child” in Nick as there is of a cool amoral aesthete.
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He was doing what he always did, poking and memorizing, posessing the place by knowing it better than his hosts. If Rachel had said, ‘If only we still had that pogo stick!’ Nick could have cried, like a painfully eager child, ‘But we do, it’s in the old shed with the broken butter churn and the prize rosettes for onions nailed to the beams.’ It struck him that a sign of real possesion was a sort of negligence, was to have an old woodyard you’d virtually forgotten about.
I’m really impressed by this book, its psychological truth, style, attention to detail, flashes of genuine humour. Four stars for now, but I may revise it upwards.
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Old 25th Jun 2007, 12:50   #45
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

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IMy general impression of [Nick] is that of someone homeless, who tries to find his place using as a compass his sense of beauty. Many people in this thread said that he tolerated the philistinism of the Feddens’ and their ilk because it was the price he had to pay for the access to the objects of art and cultural life. It’s true. But his attachment to this family isn’t a cold calculation – he isn’t blind to their shortcomings, but he genuinely cares for them, in his own way. It is a misplaced affection, and, it turns out, one-sided.
I'm not sure that I agree. I thought Nick felt that he was better than his ancestors. He had been to university, which had allowed the Feddens to discover him and see that he was their equal. Nick made frequent references to how far he felt that the Feddens - especially the daughter - had embraced him as one of their own. It was an attitude of: look at me; look at what I have become. It's not a million miles away from his father, collecting earls. And in later parts of the novel, Nick seemed to think that by associating with Wani and the rich boys, that he had become one himself.

I never got the impression that Nick actually felt beauty. He had learned a list of items that the wealthy felt to be beautiful. He was able to recite this list in order to ingratiate himself, but he never felt it in his soul. He was not touched by handling a beautiful vase, he was touched by handling a valuable vase. And so I'm not sure he ever saw the Feddens as philistines. He would have liked whatever they liked because he wanted to become more like them. They could do no wrong.

I have to say that when I first read Line of Beauty, I loathed it. I thought it was shallow, staccato, pornographic and plotless. But three years on, it does seem to have left a rather deep impression, and for me, that it my principal yardstick of quality. Perhaps it was a worthy Booker shortlister after all. Whether it deserved to win, who knows... ?
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Old 25th Jun 2007, 20:22   #46
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

You know, I suppose that after reading all these negative views of Nick's personality, I felt the need to show his other side, just to balance things. Because, after all, I can't deny that he was shallow and he lacked any firmness of character. Perhaps the last pages show him having learnt something, perhaps not.

I don't agree though with your opinion that Nick never felt beauty - this would really make a snob of him, if he used his knowledge and erudition to put himself above "common" people, without really caring about art and beauty. But I think the text indicates otherwise - that he often makes light of it to cover his embarrassement over the fact that he cares so much - among the people who don't. If I have time to find the relevant passages, I'll post them.

I didn't feel the novel was really pornographic, whatever this says about me. I thought about your comment (a few posts back) about the time jumps in the novel, which saved the author the effort of showing character development. It's a good point - but myself, I liked it this way.
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Old 17th Nov 2009, 23:26   #47
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

I'm nearing the end of The Line Of Beauty and am enjoying it very much - far more than I was expecting, actually. Quickly browing through the thread, I found only fleeting mentions of other works by Hollinghurst. Has anyone read anything else by Hollinghurst? Recommendations?
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Old 18th Nov 2009, 9:08   #48
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

I've read all his novels, Paul. I think the best (better than The Line of Beauty) is The Folding Star, followed by his debut The Swimming-Pool Library. I must admit though that both are fairly distant memories, so I can't really back up my ratings. I'd avoid his third novel The Spell, which I thought silly and pointless.
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Old 18th Nov 2009, 18:15   #49
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

Thanks, JS, I'll have to check out The Folding Star. I've been very impressed with Hollinghurst's characterization. Even though I don't necessarily like any of the people in the book, they are all very believable. He has a knack for perfectly capturing the various motivations driving everyone, but he does it subtly and gradually through dialogue and behavior.
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Old 18th Nov 2009, 21:56   #50
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Default Re: Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

Good to know JS. I enjoyed ITLoB and have TSL on my shelf so will move it to the front, it looks fairly thin so I may squeeze it in over the weekend.
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