Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Tuesday, 24 October 2006

"The Line of Beauty" by Alan Hollinghurst (Picador, 2004)

The theme of Beauty takes a while to emerge; at first (despite his university years) the main character (Nick) needs to experience.

  • On p.200 Hogarth's 'line of beauty' (ogee) is mentioned, the curve of a man's back. It's perhaps no coincidence that Hogarth was a social satirist.
  • On p.255 a line of coke on a mirror is described as 'a line of beauty'.
  • By p.349 a character says to him that "People are lovely because we love them, not the other way round". Later on the same page he realises that "He couldn't unwind the line of beauty".
  • On p.422 he thinks that "Leo wasn't imaginative: that was part of the point and the beauty of him".
  • Then "Nick thought it was unusual - that was the beauty of it" (p.481).
  • His final article's about the "Line of Beauty". In the final sentence of the book, as he's awaiting the results of another AIDS test, he thinks "It wasn't just this street corner but the fact of a street corner at all that seemed, in the light of the moment, so beautiful".

It's unclear how much wiser he's become in the 4 years that the book covers, but thoughts of mortality are turning his experiences of beauty into theory, and, perhaps, a guide to living. He's turning a corner on the line of beauty.

The theme in the title, and the ghostly presence of Henry James, don't weigh the prose down. Hollinghurst can deal ably with crisis and banter, large social gatherings and intimate dialogue, conversation undertow, plot and one-liners, embedding polished phrases without making them stand out. There are many phrases to relish of which the following's a small sample.
  • "Something happened when you looked in the mirror together. You asked it, as always, a question, and you asked each other something too; and the space, shadowy but glossy, the further room in which you found yourself, as if on a stage, vibrated with ironies and sentimental admissions" (p.255)
  • "'The rococo is the final deliquescence of the baroque,' he said, as if he really couldn't be plainer" (p.304)
  • "Toby was sitting in the puzzlement of bereavement" (p.336)
  • (on receiving a present) "He looked in the box to see if there was a note, like the watering instructions that come with some worrying plant" (p.360)
  • "He liked the noise of business and politics, it was an adult reassurance, like the chatter of parents on a night journey, meaningless, fragmentary, and consoling to the sleepy child on the back seat" (p.476)
  • (of a porn film) "It was what they were already calling a 'classic', from the days before the antiseptic sheen of rubbers was added to the porn palette" (p.484)
  • "a book that he'd lent them and watched filter slowly and unread to the bottom of the pile" (p.491)

The main theme is more to do with appearance and reality: how people deny self-knowledge; how they develop and protect their public face. This climaxes with the media exposé - the only way for some characters that appearance and reality can be made to match.

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