Dec 6, 2009

The Line of Beauty, by Alan Hollinghurst

This book is definitely one of the better works of recent fiction that I've read, though I feel rather spoiled after discovering Neal Stephenson, and did not take as much delight in Hollinghurst's prose as others seem to have. Part of it may have been my surprise at the subject matter; while I have no problem with a book about a young man exploring his homosexuality during the emergence of AIDS, the blurb on the back of the book made absolutely no mention of this topic, even though it is the central premise of the book. Yes, it is also about a youth being caught up in the glamor of the self-righteous political elite and his efforts to fit in without betraying who he is, but it is mainly about love. Hollinghurst has managed to write the most accurate description of romantic yearning I have ever read. Everybody has felt that intense desire to love and be loved by a particular person, and the terrible fear that they do not love you as much as you love them, and that they could leave at any time. It is a conflicting emotion almost impossible to describe by those who feel it in the moment, but Hollinhurst has managed to elucidate it almost perfectly. I was incredibly impressed.

I do wonder how readers among the gay community feel about this book. While Nick himself (the main character) is certainly sympathetic, the other gay characters in the book are presented almost as disgusting hedonists: cocaine addicts who trawl around for nameless sexual partners; one gets the sense that Hollinghurst wants us to feel that those who contracted AIDS in such a manner brought it on themselves. Perhaps they did, but then again perhaps not. Either way, it left somewhat of a bitter taste in my mouth.

Certainly this is a book I would recommend to a reader who is looking for something a little different, and for a good contemporary writer. I just wish the blurb on the back cover had been a little more accurate, so I could have been prepared for the subject and taken it at face value as opposed to being surprised by all the graphic gay sex.

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