Patrick Limcaco's Reviews > The Line of Beauty

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
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it was amazing

Nick Guest, the protagonist, is a paying visitor in the Kensington Park Gardens home of the very rich Fedden family whose darling boy Toby is his object of desire and tightest bro in the University of Oxford. Whether Nick chose to lodge in KPG because it’s convenient for his post-graduate studies of Henry James in the near University College London, which allegedly is no Oxford, or because it gives him access to a full view of Toby’s ‘rower’s body’ would make for a fun discussion. Not being rich, Nick ever so slightly struggles with the Feddens’s Rich Persons Way of Life: the champagne gatherings, the Margaret Thatcher-graced birthday parties, the France vacations, and the luxurious gifts showering. Ultimately, Nick triumphs over this class horseshit and is able to comport himself exquisitely, that is, without leaking his middle classness around people who would sniff him out at the slightest evidence of his non-affluence. He gets along fine with the Feddens and their equally rich relatives and friends because he has had enough practice at Oxford.

It begins in 1983 (The Love Chord) when things are just lovely. Nick settles among the altas and goes about the Fedden household being nice to the youngest daughter Catherine, being agreeable to the parents, being almost as personality-free as he possibly can, while still googly-eyed over the unattainable Toby. It’s almost like the first season of The OC minus the beach brawls and debutante scandals, if Ryan were gay and Seth were not a geek. When not studying Henry James, he is snorting coke with his former Oxford classmates, hooking up with white hot Portuguese waiters, and debating the merits of classical music with a Tory MP. Not even the tug of long suppressed sexual desires can sway him into being the sexual animal that he truly (and everyone else) is. That is, until the handsome black clerk Leo comes along. Leo arrives just in time for Nick to discover the wonders of garden sex and it proves to be truly one for the ages. Freed from the clutches of his gay-is-improper-and-yucky mentality, Nick is finally ready.

Suddenly it’s 1986 (‘To Whom Do You Beautifully Belong?’) and Nick is rid of Leo. Because the author wants to kill you with anticipation, the reason for Nick and Leo’s break-up won’t be revealed until much later. Not that any reason is necessary, as one so obsessed with beauty as Nick would sooner or later upgrade his choice of mate. Wani Ouradi, the Lebanese beauty who society knows is about to get married to a female, is his new catch. Society sleeps soundly at night knowing that the Wanis amongst them is bound to be married to a nice young lady, but it’s the 80s, where, if novels such as this and American Psycho are to be believed (because I myself have not lived a full life in the 80s), one does not squander opportunities for pleasure attainment wherever and however one can. Aside from being heir to a supermarket magnate, Wani is also one of the most gorgeous men in Notting Hill. It would appear that God does not seem to be acting fairly in this novel until you get to the part where Wani, Nick and some jock they picked up have sex, and an assessment of each participant’s dick is generously provided and Wani’s single but devastating flaw is ruthlessly revealed. The God in Line of Beauty is fair after all.

The Line of Beauty is a mesmerizing book about class and society with sentences that grab your face and wipes the floor with it. If you haven’t realized what is truly meant in a book review that praises a novel’s sentences, you will now. It is not the impressiveness of the sentence itself, not even the choice of words (perhaps in the way a David Foster Wallace novel dazzles you with words you never knew could or should be used either for fun – howling fantods, or for the advancement of your own suspicious attempts at literary fiction) but in the way that the author describes a certain feeling or situation in a manner that you have never read or, if you’re a person who writes, written before. It is a contentious subject, the greatness of particular sentences, and if you’re adamant at defending the excellence of sentences, you ought to maybe quote the sentences you feel or think are excellent, although of course you may just resort to the lazy retort that since the book (and don’t forget, ITS SENTENCES) is truly great, one would be better off quoting the entire book, which is just lazy and predictable.

One of the novel’s blurbs is ‘A masterpiece’ by Observer. Even if you don’t always agree with blurbs, find them suspicious even, it would be painful to contest its masterpieceness. It is very good which is why the absence of ‘Best Novel Ever’ is quite shocking.

I have a love-hate relationship with blurbs. Most blurbs are exaggerated and overused, especially the concise but generic ones as ‘A masterpiece!’, ‘A tour-de-force!’, ‘An instant classic!’, etc. For Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, a blurbist even praised the sentences: ‘Every sentence glows…’ or some such hyperbolic nonsense. I’ve read The Corrections maybe four times in college (when there was a tendency to reread novels either because one has plenty of time to waste on the same books or one has not enough resources to buy more books or smarts which to look for more books instead of rereading) and I was indeed dazzled by its glowy impressiveness, but I don’t remember being super impressed by specific sentences. I only remember loving the story of the dysfunctional family which of course super impressed those who awarded it with the National Book Award. In spite of my feelings for blurbs, I get why they exist. Sometimes, they’re true.

The Line of Beauty is a novel where not much happens. It is unburdened by plot and it’s excellent because of or in spite of that. Due to its plotlessness, one has time to get to know everyone in the Notting Hill environment where Nick chose to indulge in his beauty obsession. As a reader, you do the same. You plop yourself in a comfortable corner and ignore the existence of bleakness and savor the prettiness. It’s like a soap opera that seems to go on and on, but that you never want to end. When it finally ends, like Nick, it would take all your will to not think, ‘back to ugly!’ And then you look for it again, beauty.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2014 – Finished Reading
March 17, 2014 – Shelved

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