The Line of Beauty

The Line of Beauty

Infobox Book |
name = The Line of Beauty
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption =
author = Alan Hollinghurst
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = UK
language = English
series =
subject =
genre = Gay, historical novel
publisher = Picador Books
release_date = 2004
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Paperback and Hardback)
pages = 300 pp (hardcover edition)
isbn = ISBN 0-330-48321-8 (hardcover edition)
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"The Line of Beauty" is a 2004 Booker Prize-winning novel by Alan Hollinghurst.

Plot introduction

Set in the United Kingdom in the early to mid-1980s, the story surrounds the post-Oxford life of the protagonist, Nick Guest.

As the novel begins, Nick moves into the household of the Fedden family, comprising his friend, crush, and fellow Oxford graduate Toby; Toby's eccentric sister Catherine; their wealthy and aristocratic mother, Rachel; and their Thatcher-obsessed father, Gerald, a newly-elected MP for the Conservative Party. Nick has his first romance with a black council worker, Leo, but a later relationship with Wani, the son of a rich Lebanese businessman, illuminates the ruthlessness of 1980s Thatcherite Britain.

The book explores the tension between Nick's intimate relationship with the Feddens, in whose parties and holidays he participates, and the realities of his sexuality and gay life, which the Feddens accept only to the extent of never mentioning it. It explores themes of hypocrisy, homosexuality, madness and wealth, with the emerging AIDS crisis forming a backdrop to the book's conclusion.

Explanation of the novel's title

The title of the book refers to the double ‘S' of the ogee shape, described by William Hogarth in his The Analysis of Beauty as the model of beauty [Bloomsbury Publishing, paperback edition, 176] , which protagonist Nick Guest uses to describe his lover’s body.

Characters in "The Line of Beauty"

* Nick Guest. A white gay postgraduate student, writing a thesis on Henry James and staying at the Feddens'.
* Don and Dot Guest. Nick's parents, of humble origins.
* Tobias "Toby" Fedden. Nick's straight friend from Oxford University.
* Gerald Fedden. Tobias's father, a Conservative MP.
* Rachel Fedden. Tobias's mother.
* Lord Kessler. Rachel's brother, left-wing in political ideology and implied to be homosexual.
* Elena. The Feddens' maid.
* Catherine Fedden. Tobias's sister, an outspoken woman who has bipolar disorder and engages in self-injury.
* Lady Partridge. Gerald's mother, and Catherine and Tobias's grandmother, a racist. Her first husband was Gerald's father, Jack Fedden, a lawyer; her second husband was Jack Partridge, a builder of motorways. She has outlived them both.
* Jasper. Catherine's boyfriend, an estate agent.
* Russell. Catherine's ex-boyfriend, a bad boy, whom she dates again by the end of the novel.
* Leo Charles. Nick's black lover, whom he meets through a lonely hearts. Leo dies from AIDS, presumabily contracted from his ex-boyfriend Pete. Leo's homosexuality is not completely accepted by his mother who is a devout Christian.
* Rosemary Charles. Leo's sister. She brings along her friend Gemma to tell Nick that her brother has died.
*Barry Groom, a politician who never says hello.
*Morden Lipscomb, an American.
*John Timms, a minister in the Home Office. His wife is named Greta.
* Penny Kent. Gerald's secretary, with whom he has an affair.
*Jenny Groom
*Brentford, the taxi driver who brings Catherine back after Russell has dumped her.
* Antoine "Wani" Ouradi. A friend of Nick and Tobias's from Oxford University, a rich Lebanese who has a sexual relationship with Nick and later contracts AIDS.
* Bertrand Ouradi. Antoine's father, a rich Lebanese businessman.
*Monique Ouradi, Wani's mother. She is French.
*Uncle Emile, Wani's uncle. His son is named Antoine.
* Martine. Antoine's 'fiance', who is paid an allowance by his mother.
*Leslie, an older man at the pool.
*Ricky, a man Nick and Wani pick up at the pool.
*Sam Zeman, a friend of Nick's.
*Simon Jones and Howard Wasserstein, two men who work at Wani's office.
* Melanie. A girl who works at Antoine's office.
*Nina Glasevora, a pianist.
*Polly Tompkins, a young man. He brings along her friend Morgan to Nina's concerto.
*Lady Dolly Kimbolton, a lady at the concerto.
*Norman Kent, a man who cries at the concerto.
* Sir Maurice Tipper. A rich and greedy shareholder, engaged in unethical business practices; a homophobe.
* Sally Tipper. Sir Maurice's wife.
* Sophie Tipper. The Tippers' daughter, who nearly married Tobias.
*Pat Grayson, Catherine's gay godfather, who dies of AIDS. He lived in Haslemere.
*George Titchfield, a minor Conservative politician.
*Jonty Stafford, a former ambassador.
* Tristao. A foreign waiter, gay.
* Margaret Thatcher. Herself, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
*Treat Rush and Brad Craft, two American 'queens' interested in financing Nick and Wani's film adaptation of "The Spoils of Poynton".
*Joe, a man Nick has casual sex with before seeing Leo in a bar years later.
*Fabio, the waiter in the restaurant Nick and Wani lunch with Treat and Brad.

Major themes

The book touches upon the emergence of HIV/AIDS, as well as the relationship between politics and homosexuality, its acceptance within the 1980s Conservative Party and mainstream society. The book also considers heterosexual hypocrisy regarding homosexual promiscuity.

Allusions to other works

*The novel is dedicated to fantasy writer Francis Wyndham.
*An excerpt from Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" is quoted before the first section. Nick is said to like Alexander Pope more than William Wordsworth. Lord Kessler praises Anthony Trollope after Nick picks up his copy of "The Way We Live Now". Nick goes on to say he prefers the style of Henry James, Joseph Conrad and George Meredith. Later, Jenny Groom says she has read "Mister Johnson" by Joyce Cary. Wani is said to have books by William Shakespeare, George Eliot's "Middlemarch" and Henry Fielding's "Tom Jones" in his bedroom. In the Feddens's house in France, there are copies of books by Frederick Forsyth. Later Nick has a book of verse by John Berryman.
*Sophie is to play Lady Agatha in Oscar Wilde's "Lady Windermere's Fan". At the end, Nick compares the Feddens to William Shakespeare's "Pericles, Prince of Tyre".
*The Feddens have a painting by Francesco Guardi in their house. Leo's mother has a replica of William Holman Hunt's "The Shadow of Death" in her house. She also mentions his "The Light of the World". Lord Kessler has a painting by Paul Cezanne and Rembrandt, and is said to have a Kandinsky. Later in the narrative Howard Hodgkin is mentioned. Lord Kessler gives them a painting by Paul Gauguin.
*Leo and Nick go to the cinema to see "Scarface". Together, they have seen "Rumble Fish" and Federico Fellini's "And the Ship Sails On". Later at the pool, a man asks Wani if he has seen "A Room with a View". Later, Merchant Ivory Productions is mentioned, along with Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket".
*Leo plays some Mozart at the piano, which is said to sound like Bach; Liszt is also mentioned with regard to Toby. Moreover, Nick says he doesn't like Richard Strauss and prefers Richard Wagner. The Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra is mentioned. In Wani's parents's bedroom, Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" can be heard when the curtains are being closed. Later, Nina plays Chopin, Schubert, Beethoven, Busoni and Khachaturian. Kiri Te Kanawa is mentioned. Nick is said to like Anton Bruckner. At the end, Catherine plays Rachmaninov's "Symphonic Dances" and dances like Natalia Makarova.
*Nick quotes phrases from Henry James's "The Outcry" and "The High Bid". Later, he says he is working on a film adaptation of "The Spoils of Poynton" with Wani - he mentions Ezra Pound, who said it was a book about furniture. In France, he reads "A Small Boy and Others". Later, the film adaptation of "The Bostonians" is mentioned. "The Portrait of a Lady" is also mentioned at the end.
*André Charles Boulle is mentioned with regard to Pete.
* Architects Aston Webb, along with Christopher Wren and Francesco Borromini are alluded to. Nick is also said to have read books by Nikolaus Pevsner.
*Nick suspects Lord Kessler's wedding anniversary present to the Feddens is by Paul de Lamerie.
*Catherine plays The Clash. Nick and Margaret Thatcher later dance to "Get off of My Cloud" by The Rolling Stones.
*Morgan le Fay is mentioned.

Allusions to actual history

*Lord Kessler mentions Madame de Pompadour.
*At the dinner party at the Feddens, the guests talk about the Falklands War, the Strategic Defense Initiative, and the Battle of Trafalgar.
*At the recital, Giscard d'Estaing is mentioned. Later, Nick sees a picture of Gerald and Ronald Reagan. There is also a picture of Catherine and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Literary significance and criticism

Hollinghurst wrote the novel in Yaddo.

The book won the 2004 Booker Prize [ [ The Man Booker Prize ] ] .

Hollinghurst has received praise for his portrayal of life among the privileged governing classes during the early to middle 1980s. [ [ BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Arts | Hollinghurst takes Booker Prize ] ]

The novel has been compared to Anthony Powell's "A Dance to the Music of Time" [ [,,1189089,00.html Alfred Hickling, 'Between the lines', The Guardian, 10 April 2004] ] , with special regard to Powell's character Nicholas Jenkins. [ Anthony Quinn, 'The Last Good Summer', New York Times, 31 October 2004] ] ] The protagonist has also been likened to Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" [ [ 'The last summer', The Telegraph, 28/03/2004] ] .

Margaret Thatcher's tardy appearance has been compared to that of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"; Sir Maurice Tipper and his wife have been compared to characters from Evelyn Waugh.

TV adaptation

The novel was adapted for television by Andrew Davies as a [ three-part mini-series] for BBC Two, broadcast from 17 May 2006. It stars Dan Stevens as Nick Guest, with Hayley Atwell, Tim McInnerny, Alice Krige, Alex Wyndham, Oliver Coleman, Joseph Morgan, Lydia Leonard, Elize Du Toit, Don Gilet, Kenneth Cranham and Barbara Flynn. [imdb title|id=0494192|title=The Line of Beauty] It was directed by Saul Dibb.


External links

* [ The BBC Line of Beauty website]
* [ Video of an interview on The Line of Beauty with Alan Hollinghurst, top right hand corner]
* [,,1189089,00.html Review from The Guardian]
* [ Review from The Telegraph]
* [ Review from the New York Times]
* [ Review from the Washington Post]
* [ Review from the San Francisco Chronicle]
* [ Review from the Boston Globe]
* [ Review from the Seattle Times]
* [ Review from the Christian Science Monitor]
* [ Review from The Age]

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