The Line of Beauty

Helena Keeble

Helena Keeble recounting The Late Night Library Club’s event in Hackney, London with novelist Alan Hollinghurst.

On 3 February, National Trust’s Sutton House played host to the ‘Late Night Library Club’, a theatrical adaptation of Alan Hollinghurst’s ‘The Line of Beauty’, marking the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality. The event featured a diverse programme, headlining Alan Hollinghurst in conversation with Jonathan Kemp. Hollinghurst is an award-winning gay novelist, with ‘The Line of Beauty’ winning the Man Booker Prize in 2004.

The event started with drinks in the courtyard before you ascended to the first floor. Immediately you were greeted by characters of the novel dressed in the 80’s ‘Tory Glam’ style. On your right, character ‘Leo’ encouraged you enter and explore your creativity by colouring in a print of Margaret Thatcher. You can imagine the array of results from this audience which were gloriously displayed on the walls throughout the evening for everyone to enjoy. Across the hallway the Little Chamber was filled with flashes as Elissa Cray hosted a portrait photography studio. Next door in the Great Chamber, ‘Starkers Life Drawing’ invited people to draw the compromising positions of the two male models.

With their drawings proudly on the wall next to the brightly coloured-in Thatcher’s, the guests of the evening descended to the Barn to hear Hollinghurst’s talk. Hollinghurst began with a short reading before discussing many topics; his interest in aesthetics and his writing style and process.

‘The Line of Beauty’ is dominantly themed as an aesthetic book with the main protagonist, Nick, who is the observer of the novel, being ‘drawn to beauty’ and is ‘all about the surface’. Hollinghurst explains that he wanted Nick to be a character ‘who is pushed out of shape in a way by the forces of this horrible period [for gays] in our recent history’.

‘I’m very interested in the fact that the novel itself is a kind of aesthetic realm, you’re not just in the everyday world … you’re in the world which is in a careful kind of artistic construct.’

Hollinghurst originally wanted to be a poet, which Jonathan Kemp suggested was evident in his expressive and meticulous prose. Hollinghurst described his writing as almost musical due to his interest in ‘how a sentence or paragraph moves’ and ‘the sounds of the words’. Yet, Hollinghurst described the writing process as getting harder with each novel. Wittily, Hollinghurst commented on how he never usually revisits his novels ‘in quite this way’ with his characters literally present in the same physical house.

The evening was wrapped up by music and spoken entertainment in the staging of character Toby’s 21st birthday party. Sporting a fabulously tight pair of black and white leggings and heels, Lord Hicks sang charmingly and wittily on topical issues, both sensitive and satirical. To follow, Ted Rogers and Keith Jarrett exampled some of their poetry on many subjects, ranging from cake, to finding love on Grindr, to the Sexual Offences Act. The event ended with a drag Margaret Thatcher’s arrival and a disco party featuring the top hits of the 80’s.