Reading guide for The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Stranger's Child

By Alan Hollinghurst

The Stranger's Child
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Oct 2011,
    448 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2012,
    448 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Much of The Stranger's Child concerns attempts to get at the truth of Cecil Valance. What does the novel as a whole say about our ability to truly know another person? In what ways does it illustrate the limits of our knowing? Do we as readers of the novel know Cecil more accurately than George, Daphne, Dudley - even Sebastian Stokes? What about Paul Bryant?


  2. What role does keeping secrets play in the The Stranger's Child? Why do so many characters feel compelled to lead secret lives?


  3. Several characters are said to have had "a bad war," suffering from what would now be described as post traumatic stress disorder. How has the war affected Dudley Valence and Leslie Keeping in particular? In what ways does World War I cast a shadow over the entire novel?


  4. Before her interview with Sebby Stokes for the memoir he's writing about Cecil, Daphne thinks: "What she felt then; and what she felt now; and what she felt now about what she felt then; it wasn't remotely easy to say" [p. 141]. Later in the novel, frustrated with Paul's interview for his biography of the poet, Daphne muses: "He was asking for memories, too young himself to know that memories were only memories of memories" [p.382]. In what ways does the novel suggest that memory, of both facts and feelings, is an extremely unreliable method of recovering the truth?


  5. What is suggested by the divergent attitudes expressed in the novel toward Victorianism, especially as it is embodied in Corley House? Why does Dudley detest the house so violently? What is the effect of Mrs. Riley's modernist makeover?


  6. How do English attitudes towards homosexuality change over the period the novel covers, from 1913 to 2008? Why is it important, in terms of Cecil Valance's biography, that the true nature of his sexuality, and the true recipient of his famous poem "Two Acres," be revealed?


  7. What other important generational changes in English life does the novel trace?


  8. The Stranger's Child is, among many other things, a wonderfully comic novel. What are some of its funniest moments and most amusing observations?


  9. Cecil Valance is a purely fictional character - though he resembles the World War I poet Rupert Brooke - but he inhabits a milieu in the novel that includes real people: literary scholars Jon Stallworthy and Paul Fussell appear at a party, John Betjeman attends a rally to save St. Pancras Station, and Cecil is said to have known Lytton Strachey and other members of the Bloomsbury group. What is the effect of this mixing of real and fictional characters?


  10. Near the end of the novel, Jennifer Keeping tells Rob that Paul Bryant's story of his father's heroic death in World War II is a fiction, that in fact Paul was a bastard. For Rob, this revelation makes Paul "if anything more intriguing and sympathetic" [p. 422]. Do you agree with Rob - is Paul a sympathetic character? How does Paul's own secret past shed light on his motivations and tactics as a biographer?


  11. In what ways does A Stranger's Child critique English manners and morals? In what ways might it be said to celebrate them - if at all?


  12. The novel is filled with remarkable subtleties of perception. After Cecil leaves "Two Acres," Daphne thinks: "Of course he had gone! There was a thinness in the air that told her, in the tone of the morning, the texture of the servants' movements and fragments of talk" [p. 75]. Where else does this kind of finely attuned awareness appear in the novel? What do such descriptions add to the experience of reading of The Stranger's Child?


  13. The novel opens with George, Daphne, and Cecil reciting Tennyson's poetry on the lawn of "Two Acres" and ends with Rob viewing a video clip of a digitally animated photograph (on the website Poets Alive! Houndvoice.com) that makes it appear as if Tennyson is reading his poetry [p. 424]. What is Hollinghurst suggesting by bookending his novel in this way?


  14. What does the novel say about how literary reputations are created, preserved, revised?


  15. Why do you think Hollinghurst ends the novel with Rob's unsuccessful attempt to recover Cecil's letters to Hewitt before they go up in smoke? Is this conclusion satisfying, or appropriately open-ended?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Vintage. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Victorian Grandeur and its Fate

Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Promise
    The Promise
    by Ann Weisgarber
    Canadian author, Lucy Maud Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables fame, once wrote that "...all things ...
  • Book Jacket: Black Moon
    Black Moon
    by Kenneth Calhoun
    The popularity of book-turned-movie World War Z and television series The Walking Dead points to a ...
  • Book Jacket: Hyde
    Hyde
    by Daniel Levine
    In Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the story ends ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin

Published Apr. 2014

Join the discussion!

Win this book!
Win The Steady Running of the Hour

The Steady Running of the Hour

"Exciting, emotionally engaging and amibtious. I loved it!" - Kate Mosse

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I T T O A Eye

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.