Sunday, 2 October 2011

Decade of decadence

In 2004 Alan Hollinghurst won the Booker prize for his novel The Line of Beauty. The book received high praise from critics (who frequently compared Hollinghurst to Evelyn Waugh and E.M. Forster) and ended up on many ‘must-read’ lists. So, when I purchased this book and settled down to read it I was looking forward to a biting social satire, along the lines of some of my favourite authors.

Set in 1980s, in Thatcher’s Britain, The Line of Beauty is the story of Nick Guest, a young gay man, who moves into the London home of his school friend Toby Feddens while he finishes his studies. Toby’s father Gerald is a Tory MP, mother Rachael is extremely wealthy and his self-harming sister, Catherine. The story starts in 1983, then jumps to 1986 and 1987. 

In 1983 Nick is na├»ve and just beginning to explore his sexuality. He befriends Leo, a council worker, and has an affair with him. A few years later, Nick commences an affair with old school friend, Wani, a rich drug addict. The novel is basically a story of Nick coming out, hanging around with privileged party people, and taking cocaine. Looming over this decade, coinciding with Nick’s sexual awakening, is AIDS.

Much has been made of the open sexuality of this novel (the frank gay sex scenes) which readers may react to one way or another. This didn’t concern me. Rather my concern was over the lack of anyone to care about. The characters were shallow, unsympathetic and dull. The overall feel is pretentious.

There are passages in this book that are stunningly well written and where I found myself momentarily interested in these characters. But for the most part I found much of the novel boring and began skimming paragraphs in an effort to reach the end. Having said that, the last 60 pages or so were actually good, but not worth wading through the first 250 pages. This is another Booker Prize winner that I have not been impressed with (see my review of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi).

The BBC made a three part series of this book, which I have not seen, but it is adapted by Andrew Davies who is absolutely brilliant. I have heard that it is better than the book, so it may be worth a viewing.