Line of Beauty (Hollinghurst) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
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1. Very early on in the novel, Nick meets his landlady's neurotic, self-destructive daughter and disarms her, removing knives from her possession. Is there a symbolic or thematic significance to this episode? Is it somehow a foreshadowing of future events in the book?

2. In what way could Catherine be seen as the moral conscience of this novel?

3. Describe Nick: what kind of character is he? In what way can The Line of Beauty be seen as a coming-of-age story for Nick? Does he change during the course of the novel? If so, in what way? What, if anything, does he come to learn by the end?

4. Consider the significance of Nick's last name. How is it a reference to his larger societal status?

5. The book is set in the 1980's, the era of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In what way is this wider political context important to the novel? Put another way: why might the author have chosen to set his novel in this time period?

6. The Line of Beauty is described as social comedy, a sly commentary on the world of politics, affluence, Thatcherism and homosexuality—with the attendant pride, hypocrisy, corruption and hedonism those things entail. The Fedden family stands in for much of what this novel critiques. For starters, what kind of people are the Feddens, what is important to them, what drives the various family members? What function, for instance, does art play in their home—is their appreciation genuine...or something else? Talk about Gerald's obsession with Maggie Thatcher—and the visit which she pays them.

7. Discuss the book's title and where it comes from. What is an "ogee," and what are the ways in which Nick applies the word? How does Wani's father misunderstand the word? Do you see an ironic significance in that misinterpretation?

8. What role do drugs play in this novel? Does the book celebrate or disparage drug use? Consider this passage: "Nick loved the etiquette of the thing, the chopping with a credit card, the passing of the rolled note, the procedure courteous and dry, 'all done with money,' as Wani said." How does this quotation reflect the book's portrayal of London's societal values?

9. What are the attitudes of the various characters, and London society (as portrayed in the novel), toward gay people? What about the book's sexual episodes—do you feel they are overly explicit or gratuitous? Or do they form an integral part of the novel's plot and thematic meaning?

10. How does the widening shadow of AIDS affect this story—both its tone and plot?

11. Class distinctions are also on display in this book. Consider Leo's introduction to the Fedden household and, moments later, the arrival of Lady Partridge and her greeting to Leo. Also consider "the shock of class difference" when Nick visits Leo's family.

12. While reading, could you sense the impending calamities toward which the novel builds? What were the signs, if any, that dire things were going to happen?

13. Is this novel a cautionary tale? If so, what are we being warned against?

14. Hollinghurst's novel is hugely literary, with explicit allusions and implicit references to other famous works, each of which may (or may not) carry some symbolic meaning for this story.

• Consider, for instance, the name Nick, which seems to reference both Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby and Nicholas Jenkins in A Dance to the Music of Time. If you are familiar with either of those works, how does Hollinghurst's character relate to the other Nicks?

• Comparisons have also been made of this work to Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. If you know that work, what similarities do you see?

• The works of Henry James are also mentioned by critics as forebears of this novel. And James is outwardly alluded to at a dinner party when Nick is asked what James would have made of the guests. He replies, ''He'd have been very kind to us, he'd have said how wonderful we were and how beautiful we were, he'd have given us incredibly subtle things to say, and we wouldn't have realized until just before the end that he'd seen right through us." How does this observation about Henry James relate to Hollinghurst's own work?

• What other literary references or allusions can you find?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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