Summary and book reviews of The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst

The Stranger's Child

By Alan Hollinghurst

The Stranger's Child
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2011,
    448 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2012,
    448 pages.

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Book Summary

From the Man Booker Prize–winning author of The Line of Beauty: a magnificent, century-spanning saga about a love triangle that spawns a myth, and a family mystery, across generations.

In the late summer of 1913, George Sawle brings his Cambridge schoolmate - a handsome, aristocratic young poet named Cecil Valance - to his family's modest home outside London for the weekend. George is enthralled by Cecil, and soon his sixteen-year-old sister, Daphne, is equally besotted by him and the stories he tells about Corley Court, the country estate he is heir to. But what Cecil writes in Daphne's autograph album will change their and their families' lives forever: a poem that, after Cecil is killed in the Great War and his reputation burnished, will become a touchstone for a generation, a work recited by every schoolchild in England. Over time, a tragic love story is spun, even as other secrets lie buried - until, decades later, an ambitious biographer threatens to unearth them.

Rich with Hollinghurst's signature gifts - haunting sensuality, delicious wit and exquisite lyricism - The Stranger's Child is a tour de force: a masterly novel about the lingering power of desire, how the heart creates its own history, and how legends are made.

1

She'd been lying in the hammock reading poetry for over an hour. It wasn't easy: she was thinking all the while about George coming back with Cecil, and she kept sliding down, in small half-willing surrenders, till she was in a heap, with the book held tiringly above her face. Now the light was going, and the words began to hide among themselves on the page. She wanted to get a look at Cecil, to drink him in for a minute before he saw her, and was introduced, and asked her what she was reading. But he must have missed his train, or at least his connection: she saw him pacing the long platform at Harrow and Wealdstone, and rather regretting he'd come. Five minutes later, as the sunset sky turned pink above the rockery, it began to seem possible that something worse had happened. With sudden grave excitement she pictured the arrival of a telegram, and the news being passed round; imagined weeping pretty wildly; then saw herself describing the occasion to someone, many ...

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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

In the opening section of The Stranger's Child, Alan Hollinghurst jumps into the milieu of some of the greatest novels in English, the end of the dress-for-dinner era that came just before World War I. His fine and elegant writing seems to be more than an homage to novels such as Brideshead Revisited or Howard's End; the precision of his language allows Hollinghurst to tease out what his characters are actually thinking even as what comes out of their mouths is the proper, dining-room appropriate thing to say.   (Reviewed by Jennifer G Wilder).

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Media Reviews
The Sunday Times (UK)

Brilliantly written, intricate and wide-reaching... Masterly in its narrative sweep, richly textured prose and imaginative flair and depth, this novel about an increasingly threadbare literary reputation enormously enhances Hollinghurst's own. ...[S]pectacular.

The Times Literary Supplement (UK)

Not only Alan Hollinghurst's most ambitious novel to date, but also his funniest since The Spell... Beautifully written, ambitious in its scope and structure, confident in its execution, The Stranger's Child is a masterclass in the art of the novel.

The Spectator (UK)

Highly entertaining and, as always with Hollinghurst, the dialogue is immaculate and the characterization first class.... Every Alan Hollinghurst novel is a cause for celebration, and this spacious, elegant satire is no exception.

The Independent on Sunday (UK)

Intelligence, perceptiveness, skill and sensibility... Probably the best novel this year so far... Gorgeous.

Irish Independent (UK)

Constantly provocative, intricately plotted, slyly hilarious - in short, a triumph of the storyteller's art.

Publishers Weekly

A sweet tweaking of English literature's foppish little cheeks by a distinctly 21st-century hand. Longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize.

Booklist

Hollinghurst's at-once sharp, humorous, and poignant social satires - he is a literary child of the great English novelist E. M. Forster - strike many readers, experienced or new, as old-fashioned.

Library Journal

With the prewar ambience of Atonement, the manor-house mystique of Gosford Park, and the palpable sexual tension of Hollinghurst's own The Line of Beauty, this generously paced, thoroughly satisfying novel will gladden the hearts of Anglophile readers.

Cleveland Plain Dealer

The Stranger's Child restores gay life and love to the vibrant center of the British novel without a hint of solemnity or righteousness, only supple prose and a sodden, fun bunch of obviously, gloriously gay characters. Seldom has literary restitution proved so pleasurable.

The New Republic

For the daring of its setting out, and for the consistent flash and fire of the writing, The Stranger's Child is to be cherished.

The San Francisco Chronicle

It's a thrilling, enchanting work of art, and the latest in what we can only hope will be a very long career.

The Seattle Times

His immersion in each period is fluid and free of false notes, collectively fusing into a single symphonic epic... [a] beautifully written, brilliantly observed and masterfully orchestrated novel.

The New York Times Book Review

From era to era, Hollinghurst remains wonderfully precise. The overall success is remarkable. The texture of the writing feels steadily satisfying... The novel has plenty of secrets to spill before it's finished.

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Victorian Grandeur and its Fate

"What do you think, Ralph?" said George. "For or against the egregious grotesqueries of the Victorians?"...

"I suppose what I feel," said Revel, after a minute, "well, the grotesqueries are what I like best, really, and the more egregious the better."

"What? Not St. Pancras," said George. "Not Keble College?"

"Oh, when I first saw St. Pancras," said Revel, "I thought it was the most beautiful building on earth."

The rise and fall and rise again of high Victorian style marks the passage of a tumultuous century in The Stranger's Child. From St. Pancras railway station in London to the fictional Corley Court, the fate of exuberant Victorian ornamentation tracks the evolution of aesthetic taste. At the opening of the book,...

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