Ok, when Newsweek published their 50 Books For Our Times list, there was a big to-do on twitter that amounted mostly to WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN!?!? So a bunch of people (approx. 50) headed up by Amy signed on to each read a book and to weigh in on its ‘of our time’-ness. I am going to pretty much epic-fail on that front.
So, it’s 1983 and social-sort-of-nothing Nick Guest has come to stay with his college pal and long-time-secret-crush Toby’s aggressively Tory family. Nick is tentatively openly gay, and the family is tentatively ok with it, and its all sort of awkwardly and determinedly liberal with everyone being shy to offend and honestly sort of sounds like now, despite the 26-year time lag. So there’s that. Anyway, Nick acquires his first real boyfriend and there’s all the newness of love and the sweetness and light that goes along with and Cautionary Whale, they make the sex. Often. So, that’s Part 1.
Suddenly it’s Part 2 and 1986 and honestly, I love when books do this because I get all the joy of seeing where everyone is three years hence without having to read through the intervening 3 years. Nick is still living with the Tories but now he’s dating a rich boy and trying not to feel like a slug despite his rich boyfriend and rich Tories, but sort of he does. And kind of that’s all that happens in Part 2.
And, The Line of Beauty was billed by Newsweek as being there ‘in case anyone has forgotten those dark days’ and at first I was all, Pssssh, as if we could. But then I got to Part 3, when it’s 1987 and the whole gay community is dying of the AIDS and everyone who isn’t currently dying is ultra-matter-of-fact about the whole thing and that somehow makes it WORSE because how many people have to die before it stops fazing you? Probably lots, right? I’d forgotten that part.
And here’s the thing, Intarnets: There are these five boys in Thailand who are more important to me than anyone else in the world outside of my family and who all caught the HIV from their mothers (who promptly died) and who are HEALTHY AS HORSES (except, of course, for the HIV) and who are not slowly dying as one particular character spends Part 3 slowly dying, and it is one of the greatest hopes of my life that they never slowly die in this way but it was SO HARD to read knowing that this will maybe/probably/barring some sort of miracle happen to them.
So now I’m totally maudlin. The Line of Beauty ≠ a fun summer romp. And I’m still not 100%sure what it has to do with Our Times, because I’m sort of a political idiot and am sure I missed all kinds of boats here, but It Is Good. None of the characters are particularly likable, and I could not sum up the plot in 6 words. Huh. That does not sound like a ringing endorsement at all.
H’whelp, seven caterpillars.