[Winner of the 2004 Man Booker Prize]
After winning the 2004 Man Booker Prize and being called the best book of 2004 by a variety of critics, one would think The Line of Beauty must really be something special. However, after reading page after page of dry, boring prose in which nothing much happens, one has to wonder what all these critics and judges were thinking.
The “hero” of the book is one Nicholas Guest, who lives up to his name by being a perpetual house guest at his friend Toby’s swank family home. It’s the 1980s, and Toby’s father is heavily involved in English politics while Nick is more concerned with freeloading and picking up men. Nick hooks up with African-American Leo after responding to a newspaper ad, then later with Lebanese royal Antoine “Wani” Ouradi. Through the years the book spans, Nick takes care of Toby’s manic-depressive sister Catherine, reads a lot of Henry James and lusts after nearly every man he comes in contact with.
Sure, this could have been an interesting book. A lot happened in the 1980s, and much of it is covered in this book—the outbreak of AIDS, the popularity of cocaine, the turbulent political times. Unfortunately, none of it is very interesting as it appears in The Line of Beauty. The action (and I’m using that term loosely) doesn’t really start until the last third of the book and, by that time, many readers will have either given up or stopped caring. Not only is the plot pretty boring, but the characters are also dry, uninteresting and very difficult to relate to. The main character, Nick, never really develops a personality—or at least not one that the reader really cares about, and none of the other characters stand out.
Though Hollinghurst’s writing is often poetic, it’s not nearly enough to make up for the dry, boring story and the flat, uninteresting characters. Unless you are really interested in England in the 1980s and don’t mind wading through a bog of a book to learn about it, I would pass on The Line of Beauty.