I’ve lost track of how many people I have told about my notable experience with sleep paralysis last year, which included a very strange dream with Dan Stevens that was related to said experience with sleep paralysis. However, this led me to watching a LOT of Dan Stevens content in the months that followed. This has nothing to do with this novel, except for the fact that upon referencing some info for my review, I find that there was a miniseries adaptation of the book starring… well, Dan Stevens of course! So I guess I will be watching that once I figure out where I can procure it, huh? But anyways, on to the novel at hand!
The Line of Beauty follows the story of Nick Guest, a young gay man in 80s Britain, who has taken to living with the wealthy family of one of his classmates from Oxford: the patriarch of the household is a local MP name Gerald, which inevitably ties Nick up into the world of politics (particularly those of the Thatcher-era shown here), wealth, and potential scandal. Over the years we see him explore his identity as a gay man in the particular culture he finds himself in, with the AIDS crisis becoming an important aspect of this life in the later sections of the novel. There are also a lot of themes regarding the draw of beautiful things, even when they might not be what is best for us: this includes relationships, wealth, and the drugs (a line of beauty for some being found in a line of cocaine, rather than the double-S shape of the architectural Ogee that the book is also considered titled for).
Nick’s relationships and the draw of this life he finds himself instilled in are founded both in beauty and the recklessness of idealizing such beauty: there is a hypocrisy to it all, and the privilege of these people and the way they play at life is certainly scrutinized throughout this novel: rigid conservatism in particular is the backdrop of many of the characters’ lives, which inevitably results in some of their downfall and unhappiness. Well, Nick’s unhappiness is really the starkest, being that he is front and center to the reader as the protagonist, but also given that his station in life and identity as a gay man doesn’t allow him to get away with the same things as his wealthier contemporaries: he is literally just playing at being as rich and privileged as he desires. Because of this sense of acting the part and just trying to fit in, there is a real sense of yearning and almost loneliness throughout this entire novel (not unlike the last two books I’ve reviewed which were also super lonely-feeling, I mean what is up with this trend of mine right now?). Nick is searching for love and trying to find a place where he fits, but even when he feels like he has found love it turns out to be different than he expected or just another experience of him thinking he’s found his place while still being an outsider in some way or another.
Yet, despite the melancholic feel of this novel and some of the serious subjects it touches on (including homophobia, mental illness, AIDS, infidelity, etc), there is still quite a lot of wit about it, and some truly enchanting lines and banter within the pages. The writing itself clearly strives for beauty, despite the fact that it took me a little bit of work to really get into in the beginning (I’m not entirely up on all the ins and outs of British politics, especially not those of the 80s because well I was not born at the time, you see). I must admit however, that this Oxfordian, upper-crust, yuppie sort of thing does often strike me as so annoyingly uppity and pretentious; yet it is also quite the delicious aesthetic and… dare I say, a big gay mood?
All in all, The Line of Beauty is a lovely book, filled with a lot of sex, drugs, and secrecy. Maybe a little more work to get through for myself personally than I anticipated when starting it, but ultimately it ended up being worth it, I think.
CBR10 Bingo Square: Award Winner