ALAN HOLLINGHURST’S new novel, The Line of Beauty, begins in 1983, just when The Swimming Pool Library left off—though its leading man is not the confident cocksman of the first book. This time it’s a shy young æsthete who’s writing a dissertation on Henry James and who takes a room in the London mansion of the family of a classmate with whom he’s in love. Nick Guest is smarter than the Feddens—about literature, painting, music, architecture—but otherwise at a disadvantage: he’s poor, averse to confrontation, and gay. He’s also charged with the task that no one else in the family wants: looking after his classmate’s manic-depressive sister Catherine. Indeed, he’s so obviously the odd man out that one reads this book almost on edge, watching him navigate his way through one shark-infested set piece after another (posh birthday party, posh stately home, posh villa in the south of France), all the while playing diplomat in the undeclared war between Catherine and her father, a politician on his way up in the Thatcher government.