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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Line of Beauty is divided into three parts that take place over the course of three years in the life of Nick Guest, a gay college student living through the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

Part one, titled “The Love Chord,” takes place in the summer of 1983, when Nick moves in to the Fedden home. Nick has a secret crush on his Oxford classmate Toby Fedden, and Toby’s parents allow Nick to stay at their home while they are on holiday in France. Nick helps Toby’s younger sister, Cat, cope with a mental health crisis, and as a result, she becomes attached to Nick. Because of this, the Feddens allow Nick to live in their home indefinitely. During this time, Nick begins a sexual relationship with Leo Charles, a slightly older black man from Willesden. Leo’s mother is religious, and the Feddens prefer Nick doesn’t acknowledge his sexuality in their presence. Because of this, the two lovers have rendezvous in public spaces. At the end of the section, Nick takes Leo to meet his much older former lover, an antiques shop owner named Pete who has health issues.

Part two is called “To Whom Do You Beautifully Belong?” It is now 1986, and Nick still lives in the Fedden home. He has moved on to a secret affair with an Oxford classmate named Wani Ouradi, who has a female fiancée in order to satisfy his rich Lebanese family. Nick is working on his doctorate, which is focused on the famed American expatriate author Henry James. However, Nick expends most of his energy having sex and experimenting with drugs alongside Wani, who gives Nick expensive gifts. Wani lies to his family and friends about spending time with Nick, whom Wani says is helping him write a script and develop a magazine. Cat, who has since been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, knows about Nick and Wani’s romantic relationship, and she warns him to be careful, pointing out that her godfather died from AIDS-related complications. Meanwhile, Nick discovers that Gerald Fedden—Toby and Cat’s father—is having an extramarital affair with his assistant. At the end of the section, Nick attends the twenty-fifth anniversary party for Gerald and Rachel Fedden; one of the guests is Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Nick, who is under the influence of drugs at the party, asks Thatcher to dance with him, which she accepts.

“The End of the Street” begins on Election Day the following year as Nick decides not to vote for Gerald Fedden. At the same time, Leo’s sister pays Nick a visit to let him know that his former lover died of AIDS just a few weeks prior. In shock, Nick goes home to sit with Cat and watch the election results. Later, Nick has an important meeting with two potential investors in his film project, but Wani does not arrive on time, because he is slowly dying from AIDS. Wani lets Nick know that shortly, the press will report on a scandal over Gerald Fedden’s finances. By the time Nick arrives at the Feddens’, the scandal has already broken, and Cat is manic. Nick drives Cat across town to discover Gerald with his assistant, causing Cat to have a near breakdown. Rachel blames Nick for letting Cat dictate his actions instead of taking care of her properly. The press then exposes Nick’s relationship with Wani in connection to the Feddens, since Nick is their longtime boarder. The Feddens use Nick’s homosexuality to distract the public from the misappropriated funds scandal, and Nick finally moves out.

In the final moments of the book, Nick visits the vacant Fedden home for the last time while the family is at a wedding. Nick runs into Gerald’s assistant, who insists she will continue the affair with her boss. Nick finally gets to see the first and last issue of the magazine he and Wani developed together, and he thinks about the HIV test he will take the next day.

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