Book Group: This month's book 'The Line Of Beauty' by Alan Hollinghurst

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The Independent Culture

Rather aptly for a book set between the Iron Lady's two steamroller election victories in 1983 and 1987, Alan Hollinghurst's fourth novel arrived to an overwhelming landslide of critical acclaim. Every reviewer sounded sure that the story of upwardly mobile Nick Guest, living in the blazing noon of Thatcherism and the bleak dawn of Aids, would rank as an instant classic. They lauded its refined yet resonant prose, its pin-sharp sense of period and place, and they thrilled to its subtle interlacing of a smart London gay scene with the gilded world of Tory arrivistes.

Rather aptly for a book set between the Iron Lady's two steamroller election victories in 1983 and 1987, Alan Hollinghurst's fourth novel arrived to an overwhelming landslide of critical acclaim. Every reviewer sounded sure that the story of upwardly mobile Nick Guest, living in the blazing noon of Thatcherism and the bleak dawn of Aids, would rank as an instant classic. They lauded its refined yet resonant prose, its pin-sharp sense of period and place, and they thrilled to its subtle interlacing of a smart London gay scene with the gilded world of Tory arrivistes.

Not quite a shoo-in for the Man Booker Prize (David Mitchell and Colm Toibin both ran him close), Hollinghurst still took the award last October to a renewed chorus of ecstasy. Now, I much admired The Line of Beauty, but it has to be said that one does hear, if not complaints, then at least reservations - about its apparent emotional chilliness; its social exclusiveness; its coterie aestheticism.

Could it be time for a critical recount? Or is the book's icy sheen a deliberate historical effect, like the glossy pages of the Yuppie mag that Nick helps to edit as its backer dies with Aids: "the gleam of something that was over"? We have no secret ballot here, so let us know your verdict.

'The Line of Beauty' by Alan Hollinghurst, Picador, £7.99

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