102 of 112 people found the following review helpful
Glad to have loved it,
This review is from: The Stranger's Child (Hardcover)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. And the characters do feel real; even the women (perhaps especially the women) feel real in contrast to the rather wooden women of Line of Beauty. There is a challenge each time the timeframe shifts in working out who is who and what has happened. It is not even immediately clear how far time has shifted - the reader is left to puzzle it all out. The first time this happened, as Part 1 moved into Part 2, it was disconcerting. By the end it was exhilarating. After Part 5, there was a pang of loss as there was no Part 6.
If there was one reservation with the novel, it is that it left the reason for the falling fortunes of the Valances unexplained. The reader is simply expected to take it as fact. But it wasn't a novel about the Valances as real people so much as a novel about reputations and relationships.
I hoped to hate the book - I'm glad to have loved it.
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Initial post: 16 Aug 2011 08:56:05 BDT
emma who reads a lot says:
Totally, totally agree with you - I thought about giving up during the first half, then felt I was discovering a far more subtle book about fiction and literature itself. I loved how many things were left completely open-ended too - do we ever discover the truth about some of the 'revelations'? And what about those letters??? :-)
In reply to an earlier post on 17 Aug 2011 00:31:51 BDT
The loose ends are tantalising but realistic. In real life, sometimes people find leads which they simply don't have the opportunity to follow up - and when they do, the moment's gone. There were facts about Cecil Valance but they become lost. Firstly, people who actually met him - but their memories fade, change and are lost altogether when that generation dies. There are original documents, but some of those are altered, hidden and ultimately lost. Perhaps some will be rediscovered, but most will not. And when they do come to light, will anyone recognise them for what they are, or will anyone even care?
In many novels, the serendipitous leads would all be followed through; the knowledge would accumulate and truth be discovered. It is one of the joys - and also sadnesses - of The Stranger's Child that the truth is actually obscured by time.
Emma - please do sign up either for the Booker Prize Forum or for Bookgrouponline. It would be a pleasure to discuss these books in more detail.
In reply to an earlier post on 7 Aug 2012 14:04:44 BDT
G W says:
Just the response I was going to put. In fact this is the essence of the book for me.
Posted on 30 Sep 2012 19:24:05 BDT
since you have totally encapsulated everything I felt about this book including the prejudices I started out with I cannot add anything to your excellent piece except to say I hope this book becomes a classic
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