Nick Guest is an Oxford scholar from humble beginnings. Like so many before him, he was thrown into a world of wealth and privilege of upper crust English society. He liked it – he could hold his own with the snootiest of the rich and fit right in with royalty and even the Prime Minister.
The Line of Beauty takes place in the 1980’s – Margaret Thatcher’s England , the era of secret gay decadence, drugs, pre-AIDS awareness and stuffy English morals. We are taken through three sections of the protagonist’s life. The story begins with Nick – fresh out of Oxford where he studies literature. He is persuaded by his best friend Toby Fedden to live with him in his family’s Notting Hill home for the summer. He is absorbed as one of the Fedden family – a family whose patriarch Gerald is one of the Prime Minister’s closest political allies. It is during this era that Nick finds first love in the arms of a black clerk – Leo. Leo introduces him to love, and he enjoys the closeness that he has been longing for in the arms of another man, while not speaking of his lifestyle as not to offend the family who has so openly taken him into their home. He befriends Toby’s troubled sister Catherine and becomes her closest confidant.
During the second section, we find Leo curiously absent and Nick thrown into the world of a lovely and mysterious Lebanese millionaire and former classmate Wani. The relationship is endearing yet strangely unemotional. He is still much a part of the Fedden family and discovers things about Gerald which none of the family knew or chose not to acknowledge.
The last section finds a more mature Nick losing friends to the gay plague known as AIDS and the house of cards in which Nick lives falling down around him. Caught in the middle of a political disaster for Gerald, Nick is forced to see his true place in society and how easily it all comes down. Friends betray him, true colors shine and he is once again left with his own intelligence and wit with which to get by. Although like Becky Sharp in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, you know that Nick will come out on top in the end. He always does.
The Line of Beauty was the winner of the 2004 Man Booker Prize for literature. Undoubtedly British in its style, completely intriguing and beautifully written, the story is a political satire and historical fiction all in one. It will stand the test of time and I predict will be seen as one of the best-written books of this century. The BBC has already purchased the rights for a three-part series – which I can’t wait to see. Run (don’t walk) to get this book. It is available at local bookstores, online and at the Nashville Public Library.
The Line of Beauty
by Alan Hollinghurst
Bloomsbury , 400 pp., $23.95