The Line of Beauty, p.1Alan Hollinghurst
A New York Times Bestseller
A Los Angeles Times Bestseller
A Book Sense National Bestseller
A Northern California Bestseller
A Sunday Times Bestseller
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
And chosen as one of the best books of 2004 by:
Entertainment Weekly • Washington Post • San Francisco Chronicle • Newsday • Seattle Times • Salon.com • Boston Globe • New York Sun • Miami Herald • Dallas Morning News • San Jose Mercury News • Publishers Weekly
"In this saga about the Thatcher years Alan Hollinghurst writes harsh but deeply informed social satire from within, just as Proust did. Hollinghurst is never mocking or caricatural but subtly observant and completely participant. He writes the best prose we have today. He brings the eloquence of a George Eliot together with the sexiness and visual acuity of a Nabokov."—Edmund White
"An affecting work of art."—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"Hollinghurst's prose is a genuine achievement—lavish, poised, sinuously alert... The Line of Beauty is an ample and sophisticated delight, charged with hundreds of delicate impressions and insights, and scores of vital and lovely sentences. It is at once domestic and political, psychological and historical. It is funny, moving, and finally despairing."—New Republic
"His finest novel to date."—Geoff Dyer
"Line for line, Hollinghurst's novel about London during the 1980s is the most exquisitely written book I've read in years. Witty observations about politics, society, and family open like little revelations on every page."—Christian Science Monitor
"A rueful, snapshot-accurate portrait of this era."—Seattle Times
"An intoxicating read...each sentence in this book rings as perfect and true as a Schubert sonata."—Hartford Courant
"[A] masterpiece with a skillfully rendered social panorama, a Proustian alertness to social nuance and a stylistic precision that recalls [James]."—Newsday
"The Line of Beauty is itself a thing of beauty—an elegant and seductive novel...readers will hang on every bracing word. The Line of Beauty may perhaps be the author's most mature and accomplished work to date. It might also be his best."—Philadelphia City Paper
"A deliciously snarky portrait of Thatcherite Britain, but Hollinghurst also makes you believe in his characters, and nobody produced better prose this year."—San Jose Mercury News
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
The Swimming-Pool Library
The Folding Star
THE LINE OF BEAUTY
Copyright © 2005 by Alan Hollinghurst
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address Bloomsbury Publishing, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing, New York and London
Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers
All papers used by Bloomsbury Publishing are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in well-managed forests. The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.
The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:
The line of beauty / Alan Hollinghurst.—1st U.S. ed.
1. University of Oxford—Alumni and alumnae—Fiction. 2. Notting Hill (London, England)—Fiction. 3. Male friendship—Fiction. 4. Social classes—Fiction. 5. Married people—Fiction. 6. Legislators—Fiction. 7. Rich people—Fiction. 8. Young men—Fiction. 9. Gay men—Fiction. I. Title.
PR 6058.O4467L56 2004
First published in the United States by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2004
This paperback edition published in 2005
5 7 9 10 8 6
Typeset by Hewer Text Ltd, Edinburgh
Printed in the United States of America by Quebecor World Fairfield
FOR FRANCIS WYNDHAM
I am very grateful for the hospitality of Yaddo, where part of this novel was written.
"What do you know about this business?" the King said to Alice.
"Nothing," said Alice.
"Nothing whatever?" persisted the King.
"Nothing whatever," said Alice.
"That's very important," the King said, turning to the jury. They were just beginning to write this down on their slates, when the White Rabbit interrupted: "Unimportant, your Majesty means, of course," he said in a very respectful tone, but frowning and making faces at him as he spoke.
"Unimportant, of course, I meant," the King hastily said, and went on to himself in an undertone, "important—unimportant—unimportant—important—" as if he were trying which word sounded best.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, chapter 12
THE LOVE-CHORD (1983)
"TO WHOM DO YOU BEAUTIFULLY BELONG?" (1986)
THE END OF THE STREET (1987)
About the Author
A note on the Type
PETER CROWTHER'S BOOK on the election was already in the shops. It was called Landslide!, and the witty assistant at Dillon's had arranged the window in a scaled-down version of that natural disaster. The pale-gilt image of the triumphant Prime Minister rushed towards the customer in a gleaming slippage. Nick stopped in the street, and then went in to look at a copy. He had met Peter Crowther once, and heard him described as a hack and also as a "mordant analyst": his faint smile, as he flicked through the pages, concealed his uncertainty as to which account was nearer the truth. There was clearly something hacklike in the speed of publication, only two months after the event; and in the actual writing, of course. The book's mordancy seemed to be reserved for the efforts of the Opposition. Nick looked carefully at the photographs, but only one of them had Gerald in it: a group picture of "The 101 New Tory MPs," in which he'd been clever enough, or quick enough, to get into the front row. He sat there smiling and staring as if in his own mind it was already the front bench. The smile, the white collar worn with a dark shirt, the floppy breast-pocket handkerchief would surely be famous when, the chaps in the rows behind were mere forgotten grins and frowns. Even so, he was mentioned only twice in the text—as a "bon viveur," and as one of the "dwindling minority" of Conservative MPs who had passed, "as Gerald Fedden, the new Member for Barwick, so obviously has," through public school and Oxbridge. Nick left the shop with a shrug; but out in the street he felt delayed pride at this sighting of a person he knew in a published book.
He had a blind date at eight that evening, and the hot August day was a shimmer of nerves, with little breezy interludes of lustful dreaming. The date wasn't totally blind—"just very short-sighted," Catherine Fedden said, when Nick showed her the photograph and the letter. She seemed to like the look of the man, who was called Leo, and who she said was so m
Nick had moved into the Feddens' big white Notting Hill house a few weeks before. His room was up in the roof, still clearly the children's zone, with its lingering mood of teenage secrets and rebellions. Toby's orderly den was at the top of the stairs, Nick's room just along the skylit landing, and Catherine's at the far end; Nick had no brothers or sisters but he was able to think of himself here as a lost middle child. It was Toby who had brought him here, in earlier vacations, for his London "seasons," long thrilling escapes from his own far less glamorous family; and Toby whose half-dressed presence still haunted the attic passage. Toby himself had never perhaps known why he and Nick were friends, but had amiably accepted, the evidence that they were. In these months after Oxford he was rarely there, and Nick had been passed on as a friend to his little sister and to their hospitable parents. He was a friend of the family; and there was something about him they trusted, a gravity, a certain shy polish, something not quite apparent to Nick himself, which had helped the family agree that he should become their lodger. When Gerald had won Barwick, which was Nick's home constituency, the arrangement was jovially hailed as having the logic of poetry, or fate.
Gerald and Rachel were still in France, and Nick found himself almost resenting their return at the end of the month. The housekeeper came in early each morning, to prepare the day's meals, and Gerald's secretary, with sunglasses on top of her head, looked in to deal with the imposing volume of post. The gardener announced himself by the roar of the mower outside an open window. Mr Duke, the handyman (His Grace, as the family called him), was at work on various bits of maintenance. And Nick was in residence, and almost, he felt, in possession. He loved coming home to Kensington Park Gardens in the early evening, when the wide treeless street was raked by the sun, and the two white terraces stared at each other with the glazed tolerance of rich neighbours. He loved letting himself in at the three-locked green front door, and locking it again behind him, and feeling the still security of the house as he looked into the red-walled dining room, or climbed the stairs to the double drawing room, and up again past the half-open doors of the white bedrooms. The first flight of stairs, fanning out into the hall, was made of stone; the upper flights had the confidential creak of oak. He saw himself leading someone up them, showing the house to a new friend, to Leo perhaps, as if it was really his own, or would be one day: the pictures, the porcelain, the curvy French furniture so different from what he'd been brought up with. In the dark polished wood he was partnered by reflections as dim as shadows. He'd taken the chance to explore the whole house, from the wedge-shaped attic cupboards to the basement junk room, a dim museum in itself, referred to by Gerald as the trou de gloire. Above the drawing-room fireplace there was a painting by Guardi, a capriccio of Venice in a gilt rococo frame; on the facing wall were two large gilt-framed mirrors. Like his hero Henry James, Nick felt that he could "stand a great deal of gilt."
Sometimes Toby would have come back, and there would be loud music in the drawing room; or he was in his father's study at the back of the house making international phone calls and having a gin-and-tonic—all this done not in defiance of his parents but in rightful imitation of their own freedoms in the place. He would go into the garden and pull his shirt off impatiently and sprawl in a deckchair reading the sport in the Telegraph. Nick would see him from the balcony and go down to join him, slightly breathless, knowing Toby quite liked his rower's body to be looked at. It was the easy charity of beauty. They would have a beer and Toby would say, "My sis all right? Not too mad, I hope," and Nick would say, "She's fine, she's fine," shielding his eyes from the dropping August sun, and smiling back at him with reassurance, among other unguessed emotions.
Catherine's ups and downs were part of Nick's mythology of the house. Toby had told him about them, as a mark of trust, one evening in college, sitting on a bench by the lake. "She's pretty volatile, you know," he said, quietly impressed by his own choice of word. "Yah, she has these moods." To Nick the whole house, as yet only imagined, took on the light and shade of moods, the life that was lived there as steeped in emotion as the Oxford air was with the smell of the lake water. "She used to, you know, cut her arms, with a razor blade." Toby winced and nodded. "Thank god she's grown out of all that now." This sounded more challenging than mere moods, and when Nick first met her he found himself glancing tensely at her arms. On one forearm there were neat parallel lines, a couple of inches long, and on the other a pattern of right-angled scars that you couldn't help trying to read as letters; it might have been an attempt at the word ELLE. But they were long healed over, evidence of something that would otherwise be forgotten; sometimes she traced them abstractedly with a finger.
"Looking after the Cat" was how Gerald had put it before they went away, with the suggestion that the task was as simple as that, and as responsible. It was Catherine's house but it was Nick who was in charge. She camped nervously in the place, as though she and not Nick was the lodger. She was puzzled by his love of its pompous spaces, and mocked his knowledgeable attachment to the paintings and furniture. "You're such a snob," she said, with a provoking laugh; coming from the family he was thought to be snobbish about, this was a bit of a facer. "I'm not really," said Nick, as if a small admission was the best kind of denial, "I just love beautiful things." Catherine peered around comically, as though at so much junk. In her parents' absence her instincts were humbly transgressive, and mainly involved smoking and asking strangers home. Nick came back one evening to find her drinking in the kitchen with an old black minicab driver and telling him what the contents of the house were insured for.
At nineteen she already had a catalogue of failed boyfriends, each with a damning epithet, which was sometimes all Nick knew them by: "Crabs" or "Drip-Dry" or "Quantity Surveyor." A lot of them seemed almost consciously chosen for their unacceptability at Kensington Park Gardens: a tramplike Welshman in his forties whom she'd met in the Notting Hill Record Exchange; a beautiful punk with FUCK tattooed on his neck; a Rastafarian from round the corner who moaned prophetically about Babylon and the downfall of Thatcher. Others were public schoolboys and sleek young professionals on the make in the Thatcher slump. Catherine was slight but physically reckless; what drew boys to her often frightened them away. Nick, in his secret innocence, felt a certain respect for her experience with men: to have so many failures required a high rate of preliminary success. He could never judge how attractive she was. In her case the genetic mixture of two good-looking parents had produced something different from Toby's sleepy beauty: Gerald's large confidence-winning mouth had been awkwardly squashed into the slender ellipse of Rachel's face. Catherine's emotions always rushed to her mouth.
She loved anything satirical, and was a clever vocal mimic. When she and Nick got drunk she did funny imitations of her family, so that oddly they seemed not to have gone away. There was Gerald, with his facetious boom, his taste for the splendid, his favourite tags from the Alice books. "Really, Catherine," protested Catherine, "you would try the patience of an oyster." Or, "You recall the branches of arithmetic, Nick? Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision . . . ?" Nick joined in, with a sense of treacherously bad manners. It was Rachel's style that attracted him mor
Nick never talked to Catherine about his crush on her brother. He was afraid she would find it funny. But they talked a good deal about Leo, in the week of waiting, a week that crawled and jumped and crawled. There wasn't much to go on, but enough for two lively imaginations to build a character from: the pale-blue letter, with its dubious ascenders; his voice, which only Nick had heard, in the stilted cheerful chat which finalized the plans, and which was neutrally London, not recognizably black, though he sensed a special irony and lack of expectation in it; and his colour photograph, which showed that if Leo wasn't as handsome as he claimed he still demanded to be looked at. He was sitting on a park bench, seen from the waist up and leaning back—it was hard to tell how tall he was. He was wearing a dark bomber jacket and gazed away with a frown, which seemed to cast a shadow over his features, or to be a shadow rising within them. Behind him you could see the silver-grey crossbar of a racing bike, propped against the bench.
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