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Summary and book reviews of The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

The Line of Beauty

by Alan Hollinghurst

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst X
The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2004, 400 pages
    Oct 2005, 400 pages


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Book Summary

'Hollinghurst writes harsh but deeply informed social satire from within, just as Proust did. He writes the best prose we have today'. Winner of the 2004 Booker Prize.

In the summer of 1983, twenty-year-old Nick Guest moves into an attic room in the Notting Hill home of the Feddens: conservative Member of Parliament Gerald, his wealthy wife Rachel, and their two children, Toby—whom Nick had idolized at Oxford—and Catherine, highly critical of her family's assumptions and ambitions.

As the boom years of the eighties unfold, Nick, an innocent in the world of politics and money, finds his life altered by the rising fortunes of this glamorous family. His two vividly contrasting love affairs, one with a young black clerk and one with a Lebanese millionaire, dramatize the dangers and rewards of his own private pursuit of beauty, a pursuit as compelling to Nick as the desire for power and riches among his friends. Richly textured, emotionally charged, disarmingly comic, this is a major work by one of our finest writers.


PETER CROWTHER'S BOOK on the election was already in the shops. It was called Landslide!, and the witty assistant at Dillon's had arranged the window in a scaled-down version of that natural disaster. The pale-gilt image of the triumphant Prime Minister rushed towards the customer in a gleaming slippage. Nick stopped in the street, and then went in to look at a copy. He had met Peter Crowther once, and heard him described as a hack and also as a "mordant analyst": his faint smile, as he flicked through the pages, concealed his uncertainty as to which account was nearer the truth. There was clearly something hacklike in the speed of publication, only two months after the event; and in the actual writing, of course. The book's mordancy seemed to be reserved for the efforts of the Opposition. Nick looked carefully at the photographs, but only one of them had Gerald in it: a group picture of "The 101 New Tory MPs", in which he'd been clever enough, or quick enough, to ...

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Media Reviews

Vast scope... smart, funny, and for all its vividly engaging ways, a pretty sound document of the times.

Sunday Telegraph
The book is Jamesian in the best sense; indeed, in some ways, Hollinghurst surpasses his master. His prose is both super-elegant and super-succinct there is none of the windbaggery of the later James novels. If it does not make the Booker short-list, I will be truly astonished.

The Washington Post - Michael Dirda
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.

Evening Standard
An important novel of twentieth-century manners, deliberately provoking comparisons with not just Henry James but with Trollope, Waugh and Proust. Astonishingly, The Line of Beauty emerges with credit from these confrontations... a richly literate, ambitious piece of work. It makes a lot of contemporary fiction seem thin and underachieving... deserves to be widely read.

Scotland on Sunday
Stunning... The Line of Beauty is quite simply a joy to read. It is solid and traditional, beautifully crafted - the sort of book Henry James might have been proud of... It is a quiet masterpiece.

Independent on Sunday
[Hollinghurst's] brilliant recreation of that bigoted, nepotistic, racist, callous and mean-spirited epoch is timely. If Thatcher's London has rarely been better done by a British moralist, Hollinghurst loves the city more than most. And on the note of love of London, and of life, this fabulous novel ends.

The Times
Luminous... [an] astonishingly Jamesian novel, a crafty, glittering, sidelong bid by a contemporary master of English prose to be considered heir to James himself. For a novel that spans only four years, 1983 to 1987, it seems to encompass a world as capacious as any in a James novel.

Times Literary Supplement
There is something memorable on every page... there is much to savour in The Line of Beauty, not least its humour, a shivering yet morally exacting satire that leaves no character untouched.

The Observer
A classic of our times… The work of a great English stylist in full maturity; a masterpiece.

Daily Telegraph
A magnificent novel... There are literally thousands of impeccably nuanced touches. Hollinghurst, as Henry James said, is one on whom nothing is lost. He is living proof that the vaulting claims made by the Master on behalf of the novel - the force of beauty and its process - still hold good today.

Sunday Times
A novel so exquisitely written that at times it feels almost as if it could dispense with plot and characters and exist on a plane of pure perception and connotation. It doesn't, of course, and it ably depicts the high-days of a boom society and the ambiguous charm of being both insider and cuckoo in the nest. But its delights and rewards extend beyond its comic or documentary achievements and are to be found in its author's almost uncanny apprehension of the world he observes... These are lines of beauty that will last long beyond the surface shocks and excitements of the novel's story.

The Guardian - Zadie Smith
The best English novel of the year so far is Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty

Colm Toibin, The Guardian
In Alan Hollinghurst's novel The Line of Beauty, the great tradition of English public, political narrative, as perfected by Trollope, meets the sculpted, poetic and interior narrative as perfected by Henry James. The result is intriguing, like reading gossip in beautifully made sentences with extraordinary insights into motive and nuance, allowing all the time for comedy.

Wonderful... almost unbelievably well-written - 600 pages of finely wrought but tough, close-in observation. Negotiating cocaine, adultery, homosexuality and Margaret Thatcher in a serious novel requires a perfect touch, and Hollinghurst has shown that he has it. In its dazzling, very contemporary way, the book is tragic.. But it is also consistently funny.

Financial Times
Must rank among the funniest [novels] ever written about Thatcher's Britain, while remaining one of the most tragically sad.

Kirkus Reviews
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 animate the 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.

Publishers Weekly
Among its other wonders, this almost perfectly written novel 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... Widely praised for his three previous novels, Hollinghurst is primed for even greater acclaim and sales with this masterful volume, the latest in a wave of Jamesian novels.

Author Blurb Edmund White
Alan Hollinghurst writes harsh but deeply informed social satire from within, just as Proust did. He writes the best prose we have today.

Author Blurb Geoff Dyer
For once the jacket blurb is not hyperbole—it really is his finest novel.

Reader Reviews

Nirmal Gerow

The Line of Beauty
"The Line of Beauty" is one of the most amazing books I have read. The storytelling is wild, understated, humorous and devastating. Nick Guest is heartbreaking in his following his line of beauty, and acceptance of all things - from his duties,...   Read More


I liked this book because the language is exquisite (of a pianist he writes: She had a lot of temperament and a terrifying left hand.) I liked it because as the reader, to understand the characters you had to behave like the main one - Nick Guest - ...   Read More


Very disappointing
I had read good reviews of this book and was delighted to be given a hard back copy for Christmas. After 80 pages I put it to one side because I wasn't enjoying the writing, the plot or the characters - a nice cover only takes you so far. Then a ...   Read More

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