When I read Alan Hollinghurst's Line of Beauty, I felt as though I was eating dark chocolate for the first time. I didn't know a book could be so balanced - to reveal so perfectly the bitter and the sweet of life. There were pages that I read and re-read, not because I wasn't retaining the story, but to savour again Hollinghurt's magical stringing together of words.I don't read much poetry anymore, but I do love prose that reads like a poem, and Hollinghurst is at his best in those lovely moments
Holinghurt's genius with words is also apparent in his earlier novel The Folding Star, but where Line of Beauty presents a world that is flawed but compelling, I had a hard time giving a fairy fart about the world he created in The Folding Star.
I shouldn't say 'the world' was the problem - a major European city, a teacher, an art historian, love, intrigue, secrets - that's all part of a world I would normally locate myself in. But, the whole time I was reading The Folding Star, which was a considerable time because I had such a hard time getting into it, I kept wondering what was off about it. Why didn't I love it the way I had adored Line of Beauty?
I actually never came up with the full answer to that, but a large portion of the blame lies with the weak characters. In Hollinghurst's later stories the characters are flawed but compelling. Here they are just unappealing. Strong characters are a must for me; human, imperfect, but compelling and balanced. The characters in this story - most markedly the main character - verge on repellent. Not Don Draper repellent either ... there's not enough charm or talent or tragic back story to forgive this protagonist for his selfish, insipid, repetitious behaviour.
If you can read a story and just savour the language, you might enjoy this book. If characters inhabiting that beautiful world are an important factor for you, read Line of Beauty instead.