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The Stranger's Child [Paperback]

Alan Hollinghurst
2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (299 customer reviews)

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Book Description

27 Jun 2011
This is Alan Hollinghurst's first novel since "The Line of Beauty", winner of the 2004 Man Booker Prize. In the late summer of 1913 the aristocratic young poet Cecil Valance comes to stay at 'Two Acres', the home of his close Cambridge friend George Sawle. The weekend will be one of excitements and confusions for all the Sawles, but it is on George's sixteen-year-old sister Daphne that it will have the most lasting impact, when Cecil writes her a poem which will become a touchstone for a generation, an evocation of an England about to change for ever. Linking the Sawle and Valance families irrevocably, the shared intimacies of this weekend become legendary events in a larger story, told and interpreted in different ways over the coming century, and subjected to the scrutiny of critics and biographers with their own agendas and anxieties. In a sequence of widely separated episodes we follow the two families through startling changes in fortune and circumstance. At the centre of this often richly comic history of sexual mores and literary reputation runs the story of Daphne, from innocent girlhood to wary old age. Around her Hollinghurst draws an absorbing picture of an England constantly in flux. As in "The Line of Beauty", his impeccably nuanced exploration of changing taste, class and social etiquette is conveyed in deliciously witty and observant prose. Exposing our secret longings to the shocks and surprises of time, "The Stranger's Child" is an enthralling novel from one of the finest writers in the English language.

Product details

  • Paperback: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Open market ed edition (27 Jun 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330513966
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330513968
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.4 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (299 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 319,287 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


From the UK: ""The Stranger's Child "is something of a dichotomy: epic in scope, but minute in its details. . . . To say it is eagerly awaited is like saying JK Rowling is a tad popular. . . . "The Stranger's Child "does not disappoint. A study on fame and the passing of time, it is as compulsive as anything [Hollinghurst has] written. It begins with a weekend at the Sawles' family home in 1913, and the arrival of a poet named Cecil Valance who writes a poem that becomes lauded after Winston Churchill quotes from it. Over the following decades, a variety of journalists and biographers try to piece together what happened that weekend to inspire such a book. . . . Buy it, then relish and bathe in every word. [This] novel warrant[s] obsessive appreciation of every line"--James Mullinger, "GQ" (UK)

About the Author

Alan Hollinghurst is the author of four previous novels, The Swimming-Pool Library, The Folding Star, The Spell and The Line of Beauty. He has received the Somerset Maugham Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction and the 2004 Man Booker Prize. He lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Tedious and irritating 15 Aug 2012
By nyonya
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The Stranger's Child spans a period from before WWI to the early 21st century. All the characters are connected in some way, whether closely or remotely, to the poet Cecil Valance (floruit WWI). Some are lovers, some related, and others merely wish to write his biography or to find out if he was gay. Each section jumps many years from the preceding one (nearly 50 in one instance), and numerous sketchy characters are introduced. Just as you are beginning to understand the main protagonist of that section, you are again whisked 10 years or more into the future, and have to follow the story from another (often new) person's point of view. To add to the confusion, there is no consistency in the use of names: one day it's 'Lady Valance', the next it's 'Louisa'; one minute it's 'Sebby', the next it's 'Stokes'.

One of Valance's ex-lovers describes his poems as 'not much cop'. I'm afraid to say that this book is not much cop either, and I am relieved I only paid 20p for it.
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100 of 108 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Forster's Epigone? 2 Nov 2011
By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER
Hollinghurst often reminds me of E.M.Forster with his nostalgia for the early C20 and his focus on the minute details of people's thoughts, observations of one another and interrelationships, all presented in well-crafted prose (apart from the odd clunky phrase like "she said carryingly").

Charismatic, arrogant and manipulative, the aristocratic Cecil Valance achieves a possibly undeserved popularity as a poet after his early death in the First World War. Can the truth of his life ever be told by biographers? This seems unlikely since even those who claim to know him have very different perceptions. In five separate sections separated by gaps of several years or even decades, the author aims to show the false nature of memory.

You could argue that Hollinghurst is daring in discarding many of the "conventions" of novel-writing. The development of a strong plot is given second place to what often reads like a series of short stories: portrayals of characters who make only brief appearances, or the description of quite minor incidents, evocative of past generations, but very amusing, ludicrous or in the style of a black comedy. The author tends to build up anticipation of a certain outcome, only for it not to occur, insofar as one can judge! Significant events are frequently no more than implied.

Although this book promises much, my growing suspicion that it would not deliver proved justified. It suffers from being too long, repetitive in its limited revelations and self-indulgent, not least in its campness - I grew tired of "blushing" and "giggling" men of all ages.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I Felt A Stranger In Hollinghurst's World... 20 Nov 2011
By Simon Savidge Reads TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Before I go into what I hope will be a fair critique of `The Strangers Child' I should really discuss the premise of it. The novel is really a tale of people of years and years, the novel itself is told in five sections each relating to a different decade. The two main characters, well I thought they were the main force of the story though others may disagree, Cecil Valance and Daphne Sawle meet, along with Daphne's brother George who is equally smitten with Cecil (this made me think of `Brideshead Revisited' though apparently that's not something you should say to Mr Hollinghurst, oops, but it does give the book a slight feel of `oh haven't I been here before?') and really we follow their lives from their first meeting and join them at various points in time as the book progresses.

As much as I am being vague to not give any spoilers away, I was also slightly at a loss as to why we meet these characters when we do, and why they tend to wander off. Yes, that's real life... well possibly real life if you are very rich and can spend life being unlikeable yet fabulous. These points in time, to me, didn't seem pivotal, and I couldn't get a hold on them. I didn't mind the fact they were all rather unlikeable but as the novel progressed I just kept thinking `where is this going, and do I care?' Some will say the rather random way in which the book is written is one of the cleverest points of the novel, really? I don't expect my books linear at all, yet I sometimes wonder if `clever' (which is the word I have seen in many reviews) is a good way of describing `we don't get it and so it must be the authors intention to be a little unconventional, it's the art of the book... how clever'. Hmmmm.
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106 of 116 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Glad to have loved it 7 Aug 2011
By MisterHobgoblin TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
I read The Stranger's Child with some trepidation having not greatly enjoyed Line Of Beauty. I had pigeon holed Alan Hollinghurst as a pompous man who was obsessed by the class system, big houses, Oxbridge and gay sex. After reading the first part of The Stranger's Child, I was reassured to see that my prejudices were well founded. A book I could truly loathe.

But as the novel wore on, something quite subtle happened. It became more and more engrossing - the gradual layering of history; the changing perceptions over time. Cecil the dandy of Part One became a hero, and then a cult and finally a distant and second hand memory. His light burned brightly for a while, but he slipped back to the marginalia of literature.

Hollinghurst's technique is to report very few events in real time. He narrates through set piece parties, gatherings, weekends when conversation turns to past events. This can be frustrating at first (and I don't think it ever stopped being frustrating in Line of Beauty) but it is used to very good effect in The Stranger's Child - allowing different perspectives and allowing changes in perception or opinion over time. This was echoed in Cecil's most famous poem, Two Acres, and his letters - being controlled, edited and drip fed by those holding the documents to amend public perception of the man. By the end, the real Cecil was irrelevant - people each had their own personal agenda to pursue and the memory of the man was manipulated to those ends.

The writing, whilst well done, is not particularly flowery or pompous. The pomposity of the opening sections mellows and by the end, one is prepared to accept that it derives from the characters and situations rather than the author.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, but for me, narrative drags at times
Overall, I'd give this 3.5 stars. Glad I read this as very elegant prose, interesting format (each chapter is a snapshot over multiple decades) and some intriguing themes (memory,... Read more
Published 20 days ago by Berkshire Bookworm
5.0 out of 5 stars Alan Hollinghurst is a really fantastic writer.
I devoured this book. The generations in this book were so well depicted, the different voices. Very filmic I think too. Read more
Published 28 days ago by paris david
4.0 out of 5 stars Intricately layered and, ultimately, satisfying
My feelings about The Stranger's Child fluctuated whilst I was reading it. Initially it seemed rather derivative, reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead, Handful of Dust sort of... Read more
Published 1 month ago by jonathan
3.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing, but a disappointing end
This isn't the kind of book I normally reach for, but I thought the concept was interesting and soon found myself drawn into the lives of the characters, followed through time,... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Del
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great read
I love Alan Hollinghurst's books. They are erudite and intelligent with just a hint of intellectual sleaze. They are never boring.
Published 1 month ago by John Bailey
1.0 out of 5 stars Avoid!
Quite how this got a recommendation to read it I have no idea. I bought it on a recommendation looking for something different. Read more
Published 1 month ago by simclair
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
What a shame ... such a disappointing book. In the end I gave up part way through. I couldn't get to care about the characters and so, despite repeated attempts to push myself... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Surrey
3.0 out of 5 stars florid
One person enthused greatly but many in our group didn’t finish this book. One wanted to finish in order to go on to a more interesting book. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mr. D. P. Jay
1.0 out of 5 stars Poor Stuff
If you like reading a book about gay love that is not very well written and slow to develop, then this is the book for you. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Grumpyman
5.0 out of 5 stars great book
Great book. Thoroughly enjoyed. Have also read In The Line of Beauty. Hollinghurst is a wonderful writer. I wish I was one of the characters in his beautifully written books.
Published 4 months ago by Bebe
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