Margaret Thatcher: The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

published 2004    chapter 12     set in 1986

[The Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, is attending a party at the private house of one of her MPs]

Gerald steered her jealously on, murmuring names. Nick watched with primitive interest as she approached; again she was beyond manners, however courtly and jewelled. Her hair was so perfect that he started to picture it wet and hanging over her face. She was wearing a long black skirt and a wide-shouldered white-and-gold jacket, amazingly embroidered, like a Ruritanian uniform, and cut low at the front to display a magnificent pearl necklace. Nick peered at the necklace, and the large square bosom, and the motherly fatness of the neck…

[later] It was the simplest thing to do – Nick came forward and sat, half-kneeling, on the sofa’s edge, like someone proposing in a play… He grinned and said ‘Prime Minister, would you like to dance?’

‘You know, I’d like that very much’ said the PM, in her chest tones, the contralto of perfection. Around her the men sniggered and recoiled at an audacity that had been beyond them.

observations: Mrs Thatcher died on 8th April. This fictional appearance is right in the middle of her glory days – unlike the Hilary Mantel piece featured on Tuesday, where she was still aspiring, still climbing her way up. It is also a key part of the narrative of the 1980s, which we discussed in this entry (on a book written in the 80s rather than 20 years later) – the characters in Hollinghurst’s book really are the gilded rubbish of the time, in their formal evening clothes, taking drugs. It seems that the world is all theirs for the taking, but Nick may be mistaken in that – he doesn’t have the right background, and in the end that still counts. The book is a very convincing portrait of the time, with its greed and corruption and sparkle, and its feel that anything was possible. Those of us excluded from the golden inner ring actually had no problem seeing it as all shallow surface, even then. The people who benefited took longer to see how meretricious it was.

It’s a very good book: sharp, sad and memorable. It’s never clear how unlikeable AH means his protagonists to be. 

For this and the previous Thatcher entry, it was surprising how hard it was to find any pictures of her in evening or formal wear, or in fact anything but block-colour work suits.

Links on the blog: Mrs Thatcher and the Thatcher-Mitterand years this week. More toffs and their sisters in the 1980s in this Rachel Cusk book.


  1. Ah - not I do remember Maggie in this book. I thought this novel was very good and a worthy winner of the Booker Prize.


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