Book Club 6 – The Line of Beauty

Date: July 2011
Time: 5pm – 7pm
Agreed on: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Discussed: The Line Of Beauty – Alan Hollinghurst
Point to Note – this was the 2004 Man Booker Prize winner.
Although the majority of the club enjoyed this book; it was generally agreed that we read it with less enjoyment or sense of urgency than with, say, Cloud Atlas. As one member noted ‘For Cloud Atlas, I’d have missed sleep in order to find out where everything was going. With this, although I liked it while I was reading it; I just couldn’t be bothered to pick it up half the time.’
We nearly all of us found the book to be beautifully written with complex characters and a wonderfully realised world (frighteningly similar to today’s political community). However, very few of us liked many (indeed any!) of the characters. A few of us really seemed to loathe most of them.
Those characters that we did view in a positive way were seen as such more because they were marginally less obnoxious than the rest, such as Catherine. Even with Catherine, there were those among us who regarded her as a plot device rather than as a person in her own right. Toby – her brother – was also not actively disliked – though it was also argued that he was only ever depicted as an object of desire – seen through rose tinted glasses as it were.
Nick was seen as a total wimp by the majority, with most not liking him at all; while simultaneously very much enjoying his glimpse and insights into the elite tory 80’s world. At least three people regarded him as a total philistine – that despite his stated admiration and love for all things beautiful; he was actually inherently incapable of recognising it or determining it for himself. He was a reflection of the views of everyone around him. If ‘they’ thought something was beautiful; he did too (then went and read all about it in order to fake insight and generally show off).
One of our more genius members compared him to Adrian Mole – a comparison that has me tickled pink! Another noted that Nick was an idealist, that he belonged among the intelligentsia and had to ingratiate himself with the privileged in order to achieve his position within it; that he had this world thrust upon him. This was quickly countered by the viewpoint that he had perhaps thrust himself onto it. Although he was erudite – with possibly more ‘right’ to privilege via education than those born into it – he had no social graces and was in fact a terrible snob.
While the structure and language used within the book were generally admired; here one or two of us had a few quibbles. One member noted that the language – particularly Nick’s was specific and jargon heavy. He felt slightly alienated, as though the book wasn’t written for him; with certain references seemingly included purely to go over the readers heads. In places the writing was just a tad pretentious. Another noted that the time jumps within the book were also slightly jarring, that she – in particular – was more interested in the progression of the initial relationship in the book than the subsequent subject matter. Leo disappeared and Wani took over, without any sort of indication of what had occured in the meantime. A tad frustrating.
On the other hand; we almost universally loved, Loved, LOVED the Thatcher appearances. One member very eloquently noted that within this environment, Thatcher had been perceived in a parallel fashion to Elizabeth the first. (I got it at the time, but was scribbling notes like a maniac and so will have this horribly backwards. If anyone wants more details, I’ll pass on the twitter addy for this person) The times required a figurehead; Thatcher was it. Seen as desirable, an intellectual force to be reckoned with and the head of society; she remains the only woman in the book treated with deference and respect – particularly when compared to the wives of the ruling elite.  The class element was also really well expressed – especially with the line “The economy’s in ruins, no one’s got a job, and we just don’t care, it’s bliss.”
The drugs and sex also provided much subject matter – fancy that! Though some regarded the initial sexual forays to be passionate and powerful; others saw them as decidedly lacking in beauty and romance – especially from one who believes himself to be an authority on beauty. Perhaps it is true that every person is as obsessed with sex as Nick – who constantly stared at crotches and fantasised about having sex with almost every available (and unavailable) character; regardless, some of us found this to be slightly over the top. However, the progression within the book of sex, sex with drugs, drugs with sex, drugs, drugs, horrible realisation of health matters to be very powerful. Those of us old enough to remember the terrifying advert campaigns of the 80’s regarding AIDS found it to be very well developed within the book.
Families took a real kicking in this book. Actually; it was argued that that wasn’t necessarily the case. Those families closely regarded – the ones higher up the food chain – were seen as destructive, full of lies, deceit, betrayal and cover up’s. The Feddens were all lying to each other. Wani’s girlfriend being a beard paid for by his parent was fantastically heartbreaking. Those families further down the social ladder, encountered some of the same problems but seemed to have an underlying basis of love and acceptance that served to cushion the inevitable blows.
The ultimate ‘betrayal’ of Nick by the Fedden family was obvious and somewhat lacking in subtlety for some of the clubbers. Here, his status as an outsider was confirmed not due to any action or inaction on his behalf, but due to the families implosion. It did make perfect sense witin the book. Heck; there were some of us who felt that it was the best thing that could have happened to Nick – an enforced step away from the craziness of a world that could not survive for much longer.
All but two of us would definately read othe works by the author…just not immediately. A heavy duty, fascinating and thought provoking read.
The Verdict
Next Month’s Book
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
The Cake
A delicious layered coffee cake, brought by the lovely R.
Find the recipe in our ‘Sweet Tooth‘ section!


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