Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst

Reviewer: David C Dawson

What we thought:
After the fabulously acerbic In the Line of Beauty, Hollinghurst’s next novel is very different. Set in multiple, distinct, historical periods, The Stranger’s Child explores how English taste and attitudes have changed over more than a century.

It is rare for an author to pull off something as subtle and complex as this. But Hollinghurst has done it. Only Ian McEwan’s Atonement comes close.

In the late summer of 1913, George Sawle brings his Cambridge friend Cecil Valance, a charismatic young poet, to visit his family home. Cleverly written in the style of the time, Hollinghurst portrays a weekend that is filled with forbidden intimacies and elaborately contrived confusions. Valance is a man who challenges the societal conventions of the time, in his attitudes to sex and love. His visit has a lasting impact not only on his host George, but also on George’s sixteen-year-old sister Daphne.

The second section of the book is set in the time immediately after the First World War and focuses on Daphne. Through well-crafted conversations and a chain of events, we discover a new angle on what happened in 1913.

In total there are five sections to this book. Each section brings us to a new period in recent history. Attitudes change; the original events of 1913 are told, re-told and interpreted in different ways by successive generations.

The Stranger’s Child is a joy to read. It is a book with many layers and great subtlety. As Hollinghurst carries us forward through time, he changes his writing style to reflect the different periods in which the novel is set. It takes a short while to readjust to the new section; it is almost like reading a book from a different author. What Hollinghurst has achieved here is a book that leaves you thinking, long after you have read the final sentence.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Atonement by Ian McEwan, Any Human Heart by William Boyd, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, 

Avoid if you don’t like: Historical fiction set in the recent past

Ideal accompaniments: A glass of prosecco or a gin martini

Genre: Historical fiction, LGBTQ

Available from Amazon

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