The Stranger's Child

The Stranger's Child

Book - 2011
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INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER

The Stranger''s Child is Alan Hollinghurst''s masterpiece, the book that cements his position as one of the finest novelists of our time. In its scope, intelligence and elegance, The Stranger''s Child can be placed in the great tradition of the novel alongside epics by Marcel Proust and Anthony Powell. And yet, in its subtly political exploration of homosexuality in English society, it deals with an utterly contemporary subject in an utterly contemporary way.
 
The Stranger''s Child begins with sixteen-year-old Daphne Sawle sitting in a hammock in the garden of Two Acres, the family home in suburban London. She is making a show of reading Tennyson before her brother George arrives to visit with his Cambridge friend Cecil Valance, a handsome, assured and sometimes outrageous young man with a burgeoning reputation as a poet. After a tantalizing and dramatic weekend Cecil writes a long poem in Daphne''s autograph album as a parting gift. It is titled "Two Acres," and both Daphne and George (whose feelings for Cecil also go well beyond mere friendship) immediately see how important the poem is - but none of them can foresee the complex and lasting effects it will have on all their lives.
 
When the next section of the novel begins, everything has changed: Daphne is married to Cecil''s brother Dudley Valance; George to a historian named Madelei≠ and Cecil is dead, killed by a sniper in World War One. A Cabinet officer and man of letters named Sebastian Stokes has come to Corley Court, the Valance family''s country home, to put together an edition of Cecil''s poems and speak to each family member in turn about him. He is especially curious about Cecil''s personal (and passionate) letters and unpublished poems, papers that seem to have gone missing, and whose absence will loom paradoxically through the rest of the novel.
 
The book leaps forward and we are at another party, this one to celebrate Daphne''s seventieth birthday. George is now the acclaimed historian G.F. Saw≤ Daphne''s son Wilfrid, a charming boy in the previous section, has grown into a nervous and somehow fractured adult. We meet Peter Rowe, a music teacher at the boarding school that now occupies Corley Court, and his boyfriend, Paul Bryant, a bank employee with a feeling for Cecil''s poetry. Soon Paul is taking up an idea that Peter abandoned: to write a biography of Cecil Valance. It means making some startling discoveries about a past that the Valance family would prefer to keep in sepia and shadows.
 
The Stranger''s Child is by turns a gripping literary mystery, an absorbing social study of some pivotal moments in history, and a sensuous and beautiful exploration of the secret passions that determine our lives. From Edwardian suburbs to the offices of the Times Literary Supplement in the 1970s, from High Table wit to the realities of life working behind the counter at a provincial bank, it seems there is no corner of English life that Alan Hollinghurst cannot make present and palpable. Throughout this book he displays his unmatched gift for creating characters who live and breathe, and makes The Stranger''s Child that rare thing, a historical novel whose characters, in their passions and betrayals, constantly surprise the reader. In telling the story of the Valances, Hollinghurst casts a clear eye on the ways that each new generation tries to keep the family''s secrets buried - and reminds us that outsiders who try to dredge secrets to the surface have their own very mixed reasons for doing so.
 
Reading this book, we are so utterly immersed in its characters'' lives that their memories come to seem like our own, at once vital and in the process of being lost. And perhaps this is the novel''s most extraordinary quality: the way it gives us events as they happen, and then shows them being transformed in the memory, and transformed again as they are documented, for good and ill. The Stranger''s Child is an astonishingly sensitive and perceptive novel, and one that will itself surely be read for generations to come.

Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2011.
ISBN: 9780307398420
Characteristics: 435 p. ;,25 cm.

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pomtree Jan 19, 2013

This novel didn't quite work. Hollinghurst took a risk (probably motivated by young up-and-comers like David Mitchell) with the structure of the novel. Although it was clever, he didn't pull it off. The book is tedious, slow and quite frankly, boring!

e
eevans7
Jul 03, 2012

I loved this book! I picked it up on vacation thinking it might be too slow for a beach read, but I couldn't put it down. The pace is slow and deliberate in a good way. Hollinghurst knows exactly which details to include so that you really get the perfect sense of a person's character and all the little mundane social situations that make up an interesting life. I loved the way he tied together all the generations and eras.

l
ladiablesse
Jun 29, 2012

Terrific, page-turning read.
If you enjoy Downton Abbey, E.M. Forster or Brideshead Revisited, you'll inhale this book. Anything but fusty, its pages are alive with well-observed, smartly delineated characters, in witty, well-turned prose. Though less explicit than his earlier books, this novel "outs" the gay subtext of its literary forbears with style and verve. A sweeping social novel that's remains intimate, through the touchstone of fictional WW1 poet, Cecil Valance.

joyhuebert Feb 09, 2012

I was a bit disappointed by the later chapters of this book that got dragged down in too much boring detail. His concept is fantastic, how life moves on and history can never be exactly re-created, but it lacks the sizzle of Line of Beauty.

m
macierules
Jan 21, 2012

My favourite type of novel - a sweeping family saga. The author lost me a bit from 1977 on as I couldn't see so much interest happening in the publishing world for a not-so-famous poet.

j
jbmcfarland
Dec 31, 2011

After hearing lavish praise for this novel and enjoying "The Line of Beauty," I was surprised to find this one so 'clever,' overwrought and distractingly choppy... it covers much time (potentially epic given the century) but the characters (who have names that blur together... clara, luisa, frieda, karina, jeff, john, etc) never seem to come alive as real personalities. This may stem from the heavy burden put on narration, but the result is that I just didn't care about any of them, esp the twits (of which there are many many many). There is also a nasty undertone to the thread of class theme since its time period spans time with its shift from old family aristo dominance to the rise of people who would have 100 years before been servants to the idiots with the names. Rather unpleasant, esp with all the dissimulation, lying and closeting of sexual antics of the fools, not to mention the mystery the reader expects to be clarified is muddied even more by the unsatisfying end in a junk store and old house about to be demolished (could it be SYMBOLIC? god!).

s
shapjul
Dec 31, 2011

I thought this book was a wonderful leisurely read. I had to put it down from time to time to think it over and absorb it. There are five sections, each a slice of the 20th century. Characters appear and reappear. The style/tone changes to suit the period--so the first section (pre-WW1) is much more languid and Forsteresque than the later ones. It's a consideration of the history of gay relationships in a way.

The consistent center is a young poet who dies in WW1. He's in the first section but then the rest become a story of the struggle to control his narrative. It's really beautifully written and I found it quite compelling.

I see that someone else says it is disjointed, but I disagree. It is slices of a century during which attitudes towards same-sex love changed quite a bit. I don't think it is really meant to be a family saga, but more a story about how history (writ small) is made and owned.

u
uncommonreader
Dec 30, 2011

Old-fashioned. Hollinghurst is a snob.

b
baylife
Oct 27, 2011

Characterisation poor. A family saga that misses drawing the There are big leaps in time and it seems very disjointed.

debwalker Oct 03, 2011

"Alan Hollinghurst’s characters like going to parties; or, if they don’t exactly like going, they can’t, for various reasons, stay away. Nick Guest, the main character in Hollinghurst’s previous novel, The Line of Beauty, was, as his name suggests, a wonderfully social being and the novel, which won the Man Booker Prize, offered a vivid portrait of the cultural and sexual mores of 1980s London. Now, seven years later, in The Stranger’s Child, Hollinghurst once again sends his characters to many parties. He is a dazzling writer, but never more so than when describing an extended scene with people coming and going, and having one too many gin and tonics."
Margot Livesey
Globe and Mail

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