The Line of Beauty has ratings and reviews. Jessica said: I started this last night, heading home after one of the most dreadful evenings in. Alfred Hickling on sex and snorting in Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty. Everyone who has read The Line of Beauty will recall the party at which the young protagonist, Nick Guest, dances with Mrs Thatcher. Before.

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Before the event begins, as beautty fuss and tension mounts in the Notting Hill home of Tory MP Gerald Fedden where Nick is a lodger, he slips out “for a walk”.

It is a November evening and, filtered through Nick’s consciousness, we get fragments of circumstantial observation: At the beginning of the next he is walking home, “[f]rowning again, at having done something so vulgar and beuaty. In the gap between paragraphs, Nick has had sex. The ellipsis — the deliberate omission of the encounter — is both casual like the encounter and telling. When the novel opened, Nick was a sexual innocent, daydreaming about consummating his desires.

Now he is a practised operator, able to fit a tryst into an unexpected gap in his day. The Line of Beauty is perfectly explicit about sex when it wants to be, but by this point readers don’t need to be told what has happened. This episode is characteristic of the novel’s narrative method, which is to set us puzzles with its omissions. Its first section, “The Love-Chord”, is dated He finds a lover, Leo, by replying to an advertisement. Their relationship is pursued in public places: Nick’s sexuality is never divulged to the Feddens, while Leo lives with his devoutly religious West Indian mother.


At the end of the section, with the house to himself for the first time, Nick has Leo to stay for the night. The novel then abruptly shifts forward three years. It is the summer of and we are at the men’s pond on Hampstead Heath, where Nick and his friend Wani are picking up Ronnie for a drug-fuelled encounter.

Nick is now easy in the habit of casual sex and well-versed in a gay subculture of which he knew nothing three years earlier. In the first section of the novel, Wani was a beautiful, alluring object of fascination; now he is Nick’s occasional sexual partner. What has happened in the three-year gap in the narrative? Leo has disappeared from the story.

Between the lines

Was he special only because he was the first of Nick’s now numberless liaisons? We wonder as we read the second section what did happen to Leo, and are teased by Catherine Fedden’s passing reference to Nick’s feelings for him. The uncertainty is carefully managed by Hollinghurst, and chimes with our larger uncertainty about hollinggurst protagonist.

Is Nick a sensitive, wide-eyed observer, or is he a kind of exploiter?

Review: The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst | Books | The Guardian

We slip ahead another year. The third and last part of the novel opens on the day of the general election.

The preceding section ended with Gerald Fedden apparently triumphant, seeing the prime minister to her car after his party. A year and a few pages later, he is on the brink of political disgrace. On the same day, Leo’s sister arrives to tell Nick that Leo has died of Aids-related complications. Wani, hollinguhrst begin to realise, is dying too: As the election results come in, Nick recalls a scene that took place in one of the narrative’s gaps, a “bleak little image of a parting on Oxford Street”.


It had been “the latest of several unhappy goodbyes not marked in any way as the last of all”. He recalls his final bsauty of Leo, “three or four months ago” in a gay pub, when Nick noticed a gaunt, skinny man with a greying holljnghurst and a hat who turned out to be his clearly ill former lover.

Nick didn’t greet him, but left the pub with his latest pick-up. The ellipses in the narrative, you realise, have enacted Nick’s own suppression of his feelings. In a sense, they are an aspect of his self-consciousness. ov

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst | Books | The Guardian

Naturally, the book ends with another. Nick is moving his few possessions out of the Feddens’ house; in the afternoon he is to have an HIV test: Every circumstantial detail, the peculiar beauty of a London beauuty, is given a strange intensity by the premonition.

But there we end, “in the light of the moment”, knowing nothing more. Topics Alan Hollinghurst Book club.

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