For the first 400 or so pages of The Line of Beauty, by Alan Hollinghurst, I was sure the 2004 Man Booker Prize judges had made a mistake in not selecting David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which was a fine novel. But in its last 100 pages, the scope of the book becomes clearer as the plot spirals into near-tragedy. The hero, flawed as he is, struggles against his destiny (not to mention the upper classes), and the question is whether he can overcome. One of the things that troubled me about the book at first was its explicit depiction of gay sex, much more explicit than a mainstream novel would treat straight sex. But ultimately, given the appearance of AIDS in the 80s and its relevance to the story, the choice seems appropriate. Bottom line: a stunning, if somewhat plodding, read.
In his review in The New Republic, James Wood said, "In this season of James-chasing, here is the real thing: a novel at once in explicit dialogue with Henry James and more quietly but deeply infected by the rhythms of his prose."
A nearly random passage:
'Yeah, go on,' said Nick. 'I've had enough, but you might need some more.' He held out the tiny billet-doux, which as always with Ronnie was made from a page of a girlie mag; a magnified nipple covered it like a seal. Toby took it and put it, after a moment's thought, deep in his breast pocket. 'God, that's fantastic!' he said. 'Yah, I think tonight'll be all right, you know, I'm just going to keep it shor,' and he went prattling on in the simple high spirits of a first hit of cocaine. On the way downstairs he said, 'Of course, darling, tell me if you want some more--I won't use all this.' 'I'll be fine,' said Nick.