The Line of Beauty – Alan Hollinghurst

line of beautyThis novel works as a satire on the 1980s but we wonder why Hollinghurst is obsessed with wealth whether it be old money like the old man in his ‘The Swimming Pool Library’ or by the new money of those who made good under Thatcher. Money talks more than establishment: Bishops don’t earn much.

This book is full of unpleasant people and tories (are they synonymous?) so it comes no surprise that: Catherine said Gerald despised his constituents. `If only you didn’t have to be MP for somewhere,’ she said, `Gerald would be completely happy. You know he loathes Barwick, don’t you.’ Nick had laughed at this, but wondered if his ‘dear ma and pa were in fact exempt from the loathing.

Not that tory MPs are out of touch: The sport of welly-whanging was unknown in the Surrey of Gerald’s youth, as it was of course in contemporary Notting Hill; the only wellies he ever touched in middle life were the green ones unhoused from the basement passage for winter weekends with country friends.

Nick embodies a cold age, an age of the calculating outsider, where everybody uses everybody else. He comes from a prosperous but not cultured background, like many of the parvenus of the period. Does this background make him paranoid or is that because he’s done so much drugs? His relationship with the mad daughter Catherine redeems him. His surname is ‘Guest’. He is not treated very well as a guest, particularly when he is no longer ‘useful’ to the tory family. Then again, he does outstay his welcome, somewhat.

The nastiness becomes ever more obvious towards the end: He was warm with indignation, and a new combative in excitement. Barry Groom had no idea of the life they n this house. ‘I suppose I’d have to say,’ said Gerald, ‘that it was an error of judgement. Untypical — I’m a pretty sharp judge of character as a rule. But yes . . . an error.’

`It’s an error you’ve paid a very high price for,’ said Barry Groom unrelentingly.

`He was a friend of the children, you know. We’ve always had an open-door policy towards the children’s friends.’

Hmm,’ said Barry, who had publicly disinherited his son Quentin ‘on principle’, to make him learn about money from scratch. ‘Well, I never trusted him. I can tell you that, unequivocally. I know the type. Never says anything — always nursing his little criticisms. I remember sitting next to him after dinner here, years ago, and thinking, you don’t fit in here, do you, you little cocksucker, you’re out of your depth. And I’ll tell you something else: he knew that. I could see he wished he was upstairs with the women.’

`Oh . . .’ said Gerald, in wan protest. ‘We always got along all right, you know.’

`So fucking superior.’ Barry Groom swore harshly and humourlessly, as if swearing were the guarantee of any unpalat­able truth. It was just what he’d done that night, after dinner, with an effect Nick could still remember, of having absolutely no style. ‘They hate us, you know, they can’t breed themselves, they’re parasites on generous fools who can. Crawling to you, crawling to the fucking Ouradis. I’m not remotely surprised he led your poor lovely daughter astray like this, exploited her, there’s no other word for it. A typical homo trick, of course.’ Gerald murmured something, with an effect of grumpy submission. Nick stood clenched by the door, leaning forward slightly, as if about to knock, in a novel confusion of feelings, anger at Gerald’s failure to support him, and a strange delighted hatred of Barry Groom. Barry was a multiple adul­terer and ex-bankrupt — to be hated by him was surely a mark of probity. But Gerald . . . well, Gerald, for all his failings, was a friend.

The vocabulary is somewhat pretentious. What is ‘matutinal steel’? (Clue: Matins) It’s a morning shave. And a stockbroker deal is ‘solemnised’.

There is some good observation: The pub itself was shut, bleared light came out through plastic sheeting as work went on after hours, a new brewery had bought it, they were knocking the little old bars into one big room to make it more spacious and unwelcoming.

Four months after discussing the book, we saw the film version – our review is here.

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  1. […] We read the book in December 2013 and our review is at […]

  2. […] We discussed this in December 2013 […]

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