A review of
The Line of Beauty
by Alan Hollinghurst
The plot, all right, holds few surprises. It starts in 1983, as Nick Guest is staying in the London home of a college friend; his friend’s father Gerald is a Tory in Thatcher’s parliament, making Nick’s exploration of his own homosexuality a rather tricky affair. It’s not too much to guess that Gerald and the Conservatives will be unveiled as hypocrites before the end of the novel—or that AIDS will claim someone close to Nick when the party of early-eighties gay life comes to an end.
But the plot isn’t the point. This novel’s pleasures are thick and deep, growing out of the brilliant observational powers of the main character. Like Hollinghurst himself, Nick is a devoted student of the late style of Henry James—a “style that hides things and reveals things at the same time,” Nick explains—and as his political and sexual educations lead him through every caste of English society, he attempts to decipher his surroundings as if he were reading James, as if he were a character in James, as if he were James—meticulously working out the subtext packed into every word, silence, and gesture.
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