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Hollinghurst, Alan (b. 1954)  
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The "spell" of "sex-magic" may indeed be "uncertain," as Danny observes; the "tingles in the air around a man, and when you touched him it flowed round you too," only to dissipate as quickly as it came on. But however each member of Hollinghurst's quartet grapples with evidence of impermanence and with a dashed hope of continuity, the men seem to be invisibly sustained by the stresses and strains inherent in a network of gay relationships.

The Line of Beauty

"Sex-magic" is not the only power that enraptures gay men. Drugs are also frequently used by characters in The Spell, which renders variously the Navajo use of peyote, Alex and Danny tripping on Ecstasy, Robin and Lars smoking hash, and a house full of partygoers snorting lines of cocaine. Sex and drugs continue to cast their "spell" in Hollinghurst's fourth novel, The Line of Beauty, but here they are rivaled by the intoxication offered conservatives by power and money in the years when Margaret Thatcher dominated the British political scene.

Upon graduation from Oxford, twenty-year-old Nick Guest moves into a spare room in the London town house of a former classmate, the sexually attractive but hopelessly straight Toby Fedden, while beginning doctoral research at University College, London, on the late style of novelist Henry James.

Rachel Fedden, Toby's mother, comes from a wealthy Jewish banking family who were elevated to the peerage during the Victorian period. Gerald Fedden, Toby's father, has just been elected to Parliament as part of Margaret Thatcher's 1983 landslide Conservative Party victory, and is busily positioning himself to be named to "The Lady's" cabinet.

Although the Feddens repeatedly insist that Nick is welcome in their home as a friend of their son, they treat him alternately as a member of the family and as an unpaid hanger-on to whom they can entrust the supervision of Toby's manic depressive sister, Catherine, with whom Nick quickly forms a close bond.

Catherine's confusion of the French word délice (delight) with délit (legal misdemeanor) focuses the novel's major theme of the pleasure of transgression. The Line of Beauty is, in large part, Nick's "coming out" story--from his initial sexual engagement with Leo, a black man a few years older than Nick, whose personal ad in a gay paper Nick answers; through his subsequent affair with Wani Ouradi, the son of a Lebanese immigrant who built a single grocery store into a multi-million dollar chain and hopes to be elevated to a peership on the basis of his generous contributions to the Conservative Party.

Nick first enjoys sex with Leo in the gated, private park on which the Feddens' house borders, the fear of discovery intensifying the excitement of the encounter. Likewise, his relationship with Wani is built, in part, upon the sometimes dangerous lengths to which they must go to obtain and consume illegal drugs.

Nick's new-found pleasure in illicit sex and drugs parallels the Thatcherite conservatives' own delight in breaking various laws. Gerald, who loves to pose as a dedicated family man, is eventually revealed to have been conducting an affair with his assistant, making use of his best friend Badger's "fuck pad." The resulting scandal is compounded by his involvement in a shady business deal with the homophobic Sir Maurice Tipper, who has built a fortune buying companies and ruthlessly stripping them of their assets.

But whereas the conservatives are not only forgiven their business transgressions but further rewarded for them at novel's end, the gay characters are left to fight to save their lives, and the lives of their friends, from the AIDS plague that is spreading rapidly. The closing section of the novel sees Nick reeling to learn of the death of Leo, his first lover; supporting Wani in what are clearly his last days; and scheduled to take his own HIV-test.

Describing Henry James's The Spoils of Poynton, from which Nick has completed a film script that he hopes will be produced by one of Wani's companies, Nick acknowledges that "it's probably a very bleak book, even though it's essentially a comedy." The same may be said of Hollinghust's The Line of Beauty.

On the one hand, the novel is built on a series of social set pieces--Toby's coming-of-age birthday party attended by over one hundred guests, a dinner for various Members of Parliament and political pundits, the Feddens' silver wedding anniversary party, which is attended by Prime Minister Thatcher, a concert recital by an emigre musician at which few listen to the music, a weekend in the country with the socially maladroit Tippers--that brilliantly satirize the cold-hearted arrogance and aesthetic vulgarity of the wealthy and politically powerful as they plot to reduce "wasteful" social service programs while swilling champagne and plotting their next corporate take-over.

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