Hollinghurst’s 2004 winner of the Booker prize, The Line of Beauty, is set in the early 1980s in the aftermath of Margaret thatcher winning her second term in office. The book lays out a number of big themes from the outset including- politics, sexuality and class.
Nick, a recent Oxford graduate, and seemingly recently out the closet is living with his wealthy university friend Toby and his family, The Feddons, in Notting Hill who present themselves as an a-typical upper class family.
Nick seems conflicted, he simultaneously loves and resents the wealthy upper classes and the lifestyle, but is happy to live with the Feddens and play the part of extended family ‘making up numbers’ for dinner parties as and when required. He loves the glamour of expensive art and antiques which come with the life of an upper class family and does very little to quash an assumptions people make about him living at that particular address.
Early in the book Nick is keen to build his confidence and identity as a young gay man in London but is conflicted by the heterosexual world in which he lives and comes across as uncomfortable at the start of the novel when in the presence of other gay men seemingly to prefer fantasising in great depth about his straight friends.
The book moves through the 80’s and follows Nick’s relationship with the Feddon’s alongside the impact of the politics of the decade and the HIV/AIDS outbreak which had a huge impact on the gay community whilst not being understood by the homophobic, heterosexual upper class world. Nick never fully fits in to his upper class life style at the Feddon’s he’s always trying a bit too hard to make the right impression and as events overtake day to day life his carefully crafted world unravels.
I enjoyed the book, despite finding Hollinghurst’s picture of the Feddon’s cringeworthy throughout, but perhaps that’s his intention! Being set in the 80’s the context is familiar to me but not something I remember living through (having been born in 86) as feels just out of reach.
Listened to: Unabridged as an audio book borrowed from the library.