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Line of Beauty (Hollinghurst) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
It is highly characteristic of Hollinghurst to oscillate between the high and the low, often within the same paragraph: consider the moment of weird hilarity as Nick, ever the aesthete, absently recalls the details of a Gothic-style church seen through the windshield of his drug dealer's car. The pathos of old buildings is later reprised as Nick surveys the tearing down of a Victorian workshop, a melancholy intimation that beautifully dovetails with the sudden dramatic unraveling of his family idyll. It is also of a piece with the elegiac close, rendered with a grace and decorum entirely appropriate to this outstanding novel.
Anthony Quinn - New York Times


Edmund White has said that Alan Hollinghurst "writes the best prose we have today." I might not go that far—White himself is no slouch with a sentence—but if you value style, wit and social satire in your reading, don't miss this elegant and passionate novel.
Michael Dirda - Washington Post


Line for line, Hollinghurst's novel about London during the 1980s is the most exquisitely written book I've read in years. Witty observations about politics, society, and family open like little revelations on every page.
Christian Science Monitor


She is either Muse or she is nothing," Robert Graves wrote. After the Renaissance, the Greek goddesses of artistic inspiration were replaced by real—if idealized—women (think Dante and Beatrice). In these well-researched essays, Prose examines the lives of nine women who inspired some of history's most prominent artists and writers, including Samuel Johnson, Man Ray, and John Lennon. Nearly all these muse-artist relationships were distinguished by tragedy, and only five were sexually consummated; as Prose notes, "The power of longing is more durable than the thrill of possession." What emerges by the end of the book, oddly, is a case for the singularity of artistic influence: the author shows that Lewis Carroll's attachment to Alice Liddell was not at all like Nietzsche's sense of intellectual kinship with Lou Andreas-Salomé, nor was Yoko Ono's involvement with John Lennon as fruitful as Suzanne Farrell's with George Balanchine. The strongest essays here, on Liddell, Farrell, Ono, and Lee Miller (a Vogue model and photographer who posed for and worked with Man Ray), pointedly refute the notion that the role of the muse is a passive one, and offer in its place a complicated vision of the necessary contradictions of artistic life—including the desire for both feverish devotion and artistic independence, and a sense of the truth of beauty and the transience of it. Prose's broader conclusions about culture can seem hasty, but the book's achievement is its quiet reëvaluation of the received notion that genius is solitary in nature.
The New Yorker


Mr. Hollinghurst's great gift as a novelist is for social satire as sharp and transparent as glass, catching his quarry from an angle just an inch to the left of the view they themselves would catch in the mantelpiece mirror. The Line of Beauty is unlikely to be surpassed.
New York Observer


Among its other wonders, this almost perfectly written novel, recently longlisted for the Man Booker, delineates what's arguably the most coruscating portrait of a plutocracy since Goya painted the Spanish Bourbons. To shade in the nuances of class, Hollingsworth uses plot the way it was meant to be used-not as a line of utility, but as a thematically connected sequence of events that creates its own mini-value system and symbols. The book is divided into three sections, dated 1983, 1986 and 1987. The protagonist, Nick Guest, is a James scholar in the making and a tripper in the fast gay culture of the time. The first section shows Nick moving into the Notting Hill mansion of Gerald Fedden, one of Thatcher's Tory MPs, at the request of the minister's son, Toby, Nick's all-too-straight Oxford crush. Nick becomes Toby's sister Catherine's confidante, securing his place in the house, and loses his virginity spectacularly to Leo, a black council worker. The next section jumps the reader ahead to a more sophisticated Nick. Leo has dropped out of the picture; cocaine, three-ways and another Oxford alum, the sinisterly alluring, wealthy Lebanese Wani Ouradi, have taken his place. Nick is dimly aware of running too many risks with Wani, and becomes accidentally aware that Gerald is running a few, too. Disaster comes in 1987, with a media scandal that engulfs Gerald and then entangles Nick. While Hollinghurst's story has the true feel of Jamesian drama, it is the authorial intelligence illuminating otherwise trivial pieces of story business so as to make them seem alive and mysteriously significant that gives the most pleasure. This is Nick coming home for the first and only time with the closeted Leo: "there were two front doors set side by side in the shallow recess of the porch. Leo applied himself to the right hand one, and it was one of those locks that require tender probings and tuggings, infinitesimal withdrawals, to get the key to turn." This novel has the air of a classic. Forecast: Widely praised for his three previous novels, Hollinghurst (The Swimming-Pool Library) is primed for even greater acclaim and sales with this masterful volume, the latest in a wave of Jamesian novels.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) Hollinghurst's first novel, The Swimming Pool (1988), won major acclaim and many awards. His latest novel engages similar themes—a young man new to both his sexuality and the manners of high society.... The material and social excesses of the 1980s are deftly portrayed in Hollinghurst's latest success. —Michael Spinella
Booklist


Britisher Hollinghurst (The Spell, 1998, etc.) isn't shy: At 400-plus pages sprinkled with references to Henry James, his fourth outing aspires to the status of an epic about sex, politics, money, and high society. Though he's best known for his elegant descriptions of gay male life and pitch-perfect prose, Hollinghurst is most striking here for his successful, often damning, observations about the vast divides between the ruling class and everyone else. It's 1983, and narrator Nick Guest, age 20, is literally a guest in the household of Conservative MP Gerald Fedden, whose son, Toby, Nick befriended at Oxford. Given an attic room and loosely assigned the task of looking after the Feddens' unstable manic-depressive daughter Catherine, Nick is given entree into a world of drunken, drug-laced parties at ancestral manors, high-stakes financial transactions, and politicians all obsessed with catching a glimpse of "The Lady"-Thatcher herself (who finally does make a cameo-hilariously-toward the end). Nick pursues his studies in James (though they may seem overkill in a novel already so saturated in the Jamesian) and his search for love-with a young Jamaican office worker, then with a closeted and cokehead Lebanese millionaire-though, as becomes clear, both his scholarship and sexuality are painfully peripheral in the world he's chosen to inhabit. Oddly, Nick is less interesting as a character than as an observer: His youthful affairs do gain gravitas as the '80s progress under the specter of AIDS, but over the story's course he goes from a virginal 20-year-old to a wizened 24-year-old. More fascinating are Hollinghurst's incisive depictions of the brilliance and ease that insulate and animatethe Feddens—especially the witty and difficult Gerald and the spectacular mess that is Catherine—and the crushing realization that Nick, unlike those around him, does not have the casual luxury to crash up his own life and survive. A beautifully realized portrait of a decade and a social class, but without a well-developed emotional core.
Kirkus Reviews




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