I finished The Line of Beauty finally. Around the middle, I started thinking: Are we ever going somewhere with this? and sort of sped through the second half of the book. I decided that we were not, in fact, really ever going anywhere, Alan and I, but that I would give his sentences the attention they deserved, so I went back to the middle and started again and finished.
It was... good. I guess. I was reminded of the Penn Jillette rule of clapping for the title of a movie when it appears in the movie, and clapped dutifully every time Hollinghurst name-checked his own novel, and ovated whenever he wanted to explain the title. It happened a lot. It's true that it may have seemed worse to me for having Evelyn Wood-ed and then seriously re-read the second half, but I think this really was laid on thick and recurrent. Including, of course The Amazing Parallels (or perhaps, the Amazing Serpentine Curves, bwaha) between the title of the book, the plot, and the presentation of the plot. It was a little anvillicious for me, as was the whole "Wow, and so the character named Nick Guest turns out to be a permanent guest! Who knew?!" Uhm... the guy who wrote the book? I know, I should have been prepared after Edward Manners, but... really?
I don't know, y'all, maybe I can't read grown-up fiction anymore. I'm a little too aware of the author wanting me to go someplace and I feel the pull of the puppet strings too much and then I'm irritated. I've read precious little contemporary fiction in the last decade where it felt like I was reading something that was both True and true*, and I think that I now value the latter, the feeling of the latter, as much as the former. If you're going to give me a story set in a world I've experienced or believe is true (Thatcher's England or whatever, as opposed to, say, Prydain) I need to have it that things don't always line up, the murder isn't always solved, the object of affection is not always attained; and the misalignment and unsolved murder and unrequited love don't make everything worse--any more than coincidence leads to enlightenment or solving the murder makes it less gruesome or falling in love means your troubles are over. I like a revelation on the human condition as much as the next person, but if it's too contrived it feels like less a moment of clarity and more like smoke and mirrors.
*off the top of my head: The Crow Road, Remains of the Day, Cat's Eye, and Middlesex all did a great job of making me feel like I was in a real place and that the people were real without overdoing the reality and while simultaneously getting to a point.
So Hollinghurst: dude, I don't know. The sentences were nice, sometimes even activating that little tingly part of my brain, which is certainly a thrill. And the way he wrote dialogue, which at first made me nutty, eventually sort of got entertaining, which may have been the point in the beginning and I was too slow to catch it. He's all "Really?" said Nick, meaning to convey his confusion at the statement and also a sense of disbelief in Rachel's apparent unawareness, if she was, in fact, unaware. "Hmm," answered Rachel, and Nick understood that she was keeping herself unaware, willfully holding herself in check against the onslaught of inevitable, horrible reality.
So, I liked the sentences. I thought the backthought was clever. I liked the snooty arty stuff, assuming he meant it to be both informed, informative, and a bit pedantic. But the insights were... Hey, did you know that coming of age was tricksy? Did you know that when you move outside of the social circle you were born in, there can be misunderstandings? Did you know that no matter how comfortable you are with your identity, other people may not be? Put against a backdrop of "hey, conservative politics were bad for lots of people; also, AIDS sucks" and the message I get is that Hollinghurst thinks his readers are a bit on the dumb side, and then the pedantic charm becomes a bit less charming. Maybe I should have just seen the movie.
NOTE TO G: I did like reading it, for clarity. I think I just miss our book group.