Monday, March 20, 2006

The Sun shines out of our behinds

I like to read Booker winners, although I have been burned in the past. I skipped Vernon God Little as I got the feeling it won as part of the tedious use-awards-to-show-anger-at-Bush phase the world was going through. The Line of Beauty on the other hand seemed more my speed. It is set in mid-eighties Britain where a young British scholar from the sticks moves in with a college friend whose Dad is a rising Tory MP. It sounded a bit like one of my all time faves, Any Human Heart, with the young artist set against a examination of society. If you read the copy on the book, you would guess that is what the book is about. That's close to what it is, but it is missing an important element.

When I asked a (gay, as it happens) friend whether he liked it or not, he paused and said "Yes, ...but it's really gay." He wasn't teasing. The main character is a just out 20 something out to get some play. He is like most young guys, with someone but checking out everyone he sees. A large portion of the book is spent with him chasing some or landing some tail. The covert lives of him and his principal partner forms the center of the book.

As I said, it is also a book of social and societal observation. And it is a very good one. Hollinghurst writes excellent prose and the relationship between the young middle class Nick and the upper class folks with whom he dwells is fascinating. There are shades of Boyd's Armadillo, where a young man rejects his past (middle class life, including his parents) for a more attractive future. This being Britain, the class issues appear to weigh more heavily than the sexual ones, although that changes as the novel progresses. One of the reviews on Amazon criticizes the book for not having anything really shocking in it. Well, that's true, but the book does paint daily life rather well, as you might find in an Iris Murdoch for example.

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