In LI’s opinion, most prizes are so much hackwork, and the most honest ones are still for pickles or pies in some shady Ozark ville. Still, our ears rather perked when the National Book Award nominees were announced. Last year, the award prostituted itself by lavishing unnecessary trumpery on Stephen King with all the aim of the float of some bankrupt krewe. This year, the award decided to repent with gruel and stale bread and nominated five writers who seemed more like names on some Iowa state creative writing scholarship more than the five writers who wrote the best American novels last year. These obscurities will not, alas, be lit by the giving of the award. Novels are not poetry – obscurity is not prized, in the novel writing field, as a piece of authenticity. Since we make a living reviewing, and read an average of one hundred new novels per annum (“these are the chains I forged in life…”), we have a pretty good chance of reading at least one of the candidates per year. This year, we had not read one of them.
And, by the descriptions we’ve read of the book, we doubt we will try to read one of them.
Happily, there is the much more interesting Booker. This year’s award actually went to literary merit – although you wouldn’t know it by the NYT story:
“Tale of Gay Life in Britain Wins a Top Literary Prize
"The Line of Beauty," Alan Hollinghurst's lavish novel about a young gay man negotiating the confusions, delights and horrors of life in Thatcherite Britain in the mid-1980's, won the Man Booker Prize on Tuesday night, defeating David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas," which had been widely considered the favorite to win.”
The story goes on to tell us that the L. of B. is about Gays. It is, as we were saying, about gays. Did we mention it was about gays? And, in conclusion, it is about gays.
Undoubtedly, as with all of Hollinghurst’s novels, gay desire – gay gay gay – is the predominate template. One doubts, however, that your average Jane Austin novel would be described as being about straight life during the Napoleonic era. The reason to read Hollinghurst is that he is an incredibly beautiful writer. What you wouldn’t know, from the headline, is that the book is as much about class and money as it is about gay life.
About here I was planning on quoting one randomly selected exquisite paragraph, only to discover that my copy was gone. I dimly remember giving it to someone – but who? In any case, we’d urge you to read Nicholson Baker’s essay on Hollinghurst in The Size of Thoughts if you want to come to critical/appreciative grips with the writer – or just read The Line of Beauty for yourself. Oh, did we add that it is about gays? Gay sex takes place abundantly in its pages. Gay. Sex. Gay. Or as the NYT puts it, in a “can you believe it” sigh of a sign-off:
“Speaking to reporters after the announcement, Mr. Smith, [the spokesman for the judges] a member of Parliament, said the winning book's focus on gay life had not figured in the judges' discussions as they considered it for the prize.”