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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Line of Beauty is the last novel in a quartet. One notable feature in all of Alan Hollinghurst’s fiction is the author’s insistence on writing from a gay perspective. In this novel, that perspective is provided by the protagonist, Nick Guest, a young, gay English man. More generally, however, with the presumption of gayness, Hollinghurst intends to destabilize dominant narrative traditions in which the default position is heterosexual. By reorienting the social universe with gay identity as central, the author challenges conventional assumptions about normality as being straight, male, and white and rejects the concomitant association of deviance with other sexual, gendered, and racial identities.

The novel’s setting in 1980s England is central to the development of both plot and characters. The author shows how the politically conservative influence of the Margaret Thatcher government created an oppressive environment that was hostile to people with all those “other” identities. Nick’s friends and lovers are from diverse sectors of English society, including people of African heritage and Middle Eastern immigrants, many of whom fear to be out in regard to their sexuality. The dominant conservatism also affects the health issues that gay people face, especially in regard to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Compounding the fear of discrimination toward gay people is the specter of disease. Connecting both strands is the idea of masking or deception. The corruption in high-level political circles is paralleled to the rapidly spreading disease: as with Albert Camus’s plague, no one is immune.

Hollinghurst’s narrative neatly intertwines these and other minor strands. Nick is connected to politicians through his friend Toby Fedden, in whose family's home he lives. He has affairs with a black man, Leo, whose ex-lover dies of AIDS-related complications, and a Lebanese expatriate, Wani, who fears being out because of his conservative family and national culture, and contracts AIDS. The author effectively uses irony to bring events to a close. The hypocrisy of Toby’s father, Gerald, who is embroiled both in an extramarital heterosexual affair and a campaign-related financial scandal, is glossed as minor. Gerald abuses his power to out Wani and his relationship with Nick, thus diverting attention from his own crimes and transgressions. The fundamental paradox of Nick’s position includes coming home, in the sense of achieving a fuller understanding of his precarious position—he finally decides to be tested for HIV—but also becoming literally homeless, as the Feddens evict him from their house.

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