A review of

The Line of Beauty

by Alan Hollinghurst

Central question: Can a young, queer aesthete find his place in Thatcher’s England?
Format: 400 pages, hardcover; Size: 216 mm x 135 mm; Print run: 30,000; Publisher: Bloomsbury; Editor: Colin Dickerman; Typeface: Bembo; Evocatively named brand of latex-safe lube: Melisma; Surface used by Nick’s lover to snort cocaine: The young Henry James’s face, on the Mylar-sheathed jacket of Henry James and the Question of Romance; Representative sentence: “There was the soft glare of the flash—twice—three times—a gleaming sense of occasion, the gleam floating in the eye as a blot of shadow, his heart running fast with no particular need of courage as he grinned and said, ‘Prime Minister, would you like to dance?’”

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.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Dan Johnson

Dan Johnson grew up in the California desert and went to school in L.A. and New York. Now he’s in New Haven, where he revises his first little novel and works at the record shop. Stop in and say hi.

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