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Friday, 4 July 2014

The line of beastly...

Alan Hollinghurst wrote a novel called The line of beauty. It's set about as close to the heart of Margaret Thatcher's government as you could reasonably expect its unconnected, young, gay narrator plausibly to get. From what I can remember of it, which is not an awful lot I'm ashamed to say, it's a nicely written and engaging book which gently elides from a Thatcherite roman a clef into a moving remembrance of the other great tragedy of the period; AIDS. The book was well-praised at the time - indeed, it may well have won the Booker prize. But even as I was reading it I felt an anger bubbling up. It was very fine writing and a subtle critique of the Iron Lady's decade, sure, but it didn't remotely resemble that period of time as I experienced it, and I'm sure many others will have felt the same.The more I discover about that government, the less easy it is to identify anything of beauty about it at all. Someone needs to write another novel about that time. It could be called The line of beastly.

It would begin with a helicopter circling over a plush west London townhouse. We'd go inside the penthouse apartment and zoom in on a recently-asphyxiated man with a plastic bag over his head. A sullen security services operative would first remove the rope pulled tight round his neck, then the bag to reveal the a rouged and ruddy face, bedraggled perm and displaced large frame Jonathan King spectacles of a junior minister. We'd probably notice at some point that the chap - it would definitely be a chap - happened to be wearing women's lingerie. The building would be checked for incriminating documents - any found being efficiently freezer-bagged by our stealthy operative for discrete incineration well away from the scene. The security services guy would then probably spark up a ciggie, possibly even tut, and then look out into the bleaching sun low in the early morning sky/a cold, bleak Chiswick sunrise or similar, and we'd be off.

Not a bad opening, is it? I can tell you're already hooked. From here, having established our twin themes - sexual depravity and remorseless obscuring of the activities of the powerful from the view of those they govern - it would virtually write itself. You could, just example, go round the cabinet table and home in on each member - and, please, do feel free to acknowledge the innuendo here as, with the exception of the PM that so many of us voted for in the belief that things would be different with a woman, they're still all men. A chapter each on the sexual, business and personal misdemeanours of each portfolio - some might even deserve a whole section. You could throw in a few satirical asides about Westland-style business bungling and errant sons getting lost in the desert, perhaps close down a few industries wholesale leaving vast swathes of the nation idle and seething, just to add a bit of kitchen sink style grit. But you'd have more than enough just mining the sexual/political sadism seams, I should think, to come up with a suitably unsavoury and accurate depiction of Britain in the 1980s.

You could even, if you were feeling a bit po-mo and 'what the heck', coda it with a flash forward to the Major cabinet. The novel ending, perhaps, as we spin round the circle of grinning faces, chortling politely as the new PM is warming to the theme of his first address from the seat at the sentence: family values....back to basics... we drift off into white paper like a cirrus of cigar smoke.

So there you have it, in outline. A much better book about the 1980s. Now we just need someone to write it.

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