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on 30 September 2012
I did enjoy this novel, it is well written and I did enjoy the characters. I could have done with some of them being fleshed out a little bit more though. I found the ending somewhat lacking. I would recommend it though.
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on 4 August 2017
Not really my favourite book of all time but some will love it.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 June 2013
I haven't read any of Alan Hollinghurst's previous work, but I'm impressed by this one. What follows are notes on aspects of it that I found interesting;

TITLE: The stranger's child is Cecil Valance, who comes in 1913 as a visitor to Two Acres, home of the widowed Freda Sawle and her three children. The middle child, George, brings Cecil from Cambridge, where the two are members of the Apostles, an intellectual club-cum-debating society with a strong homosexual component to its membership. Cecil's family is from a higher social class -- his home Corley Court is quite grand in Victorian Gothic manner -- and he is a budding poet who, while at Two Acres, writes a poem in the autograph book of Daphne Sawle that becomes a "classic" of pre- WW1 England in something of the manner of Rupert Brooke's "If I should die . . ." (Brooke is mentioned, as is Lytton Strachey, as Apostles known, though not well, to Cecil and George). But Cecil is the stranger's child in another sense -- after his death in battle in 1916, and after his poems become better known, he becomes in effect the child of strangers, people in later generations who for aesthetic, economic, and sexual reasons are fascinated by his story. The final section of the book, set early in the 21st Century, shows him still an object of fascination. He is, however, never pinned down; he remains a mystery to the end. In the opening section -- the only one in which he is alive -- we are given no access to his inner life. All we know of him we have to infer from the reactions of the Sawle household. "The stranger's child" is also a phrase from Tennyson's "In Memoriam" (T. had also been an "Apostle"), and the section of the poem in which it appears is read by Cecil in the first section of the book. It's no accident that it is by far more powerful and moving than anything that Cecil manages in the way of poetry, and it foreshadows the fate of Two Acres and of Cecil himself.

GENRE: The default mode of the novel, so to speak, is comedy of manners, and this is a considerable feat, for Hollinghurst has to manage a variety of modes here, since the manners of pre WW1 England are not the manners of 1926, 1967, the 1980's etc. One of the unobtrusive triumphs of the novel is the way in which Hollinghurst brings these different periods and milieux convincingly to life. What's common to all is the presence of characters who find themselves in social situations that they are unable to "read" with confidence. It's going too far to call these characters unknowing, but they are limited and are aware that they are. Both Daphne and Freda Sawle are such characters, and so is Paul Bryant who finds himself uneasy in a number of situations that his background has left him unprepared for. There's a lot of humor at the expense of such characters in the novel. But if the default mode is "comedy of manners," there are undercurrents of poignancy and pathos that engage us, in something of the way that such moments do in Austen's "Persuasion," although the plots and scopes of the novels are not at all alike. We never see WW1 directly, but we see the damage that it inflicted on survivors -- Dudley Valance, Cecil's brother is psychologically disturbed, and his marriage to Daphne (who had thought herself beloved of Cecil) ends early. Freda Sawle, in one of the book's most poignant moments, recalls at a distance of ten years getting the message of the death of her oldest child, Hubert; and Hubert figures again near the book's end when we are given access to some letters from the front written by him to an older male neighbour who was in love with him.

SEXUALITY: Most of the male characters are either homosexual or interested in both sexes. Some are comfortable with their sexuality; others are less so. Hubert Sawle is aware of his neighbour's infatuation, but it makes him uneasy. He is not presented as robustly heterosexual. Revel Ralph, Daphne's second husband, is clearly and apparently comfortably attracted to both men and women. Paul Bryant is homosexual, and his discomforts are social and intellectual. The women, except for one minor character, are heterosexual but sometimes drawn to homosexual men. A lot of the humor of the novel comes from the discomfiture about uncertainty about sexual leanings, as well as from social and intellectual differences. The ways in which these and other characters appropriate Cecil, or his memory, is what the book is about.

HISTORY: Throughout the first section of the novel (1913) war with Germany is imminent, and in the second section we see its effects, though we see other things too -- and in the third section, set around 1967, one character (the husband of Corinna, Daphne's daughter by Dudley Valance) is disturbed by the effects of his WW2 service. After that, what we might call later world-historical events don't impinge on the scene.

FINALLY . . . I've said nothing about the plot in detail. Read it and enjoy it.
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on 24 December 2017
A brilliant novel about memory and reputation or notoriety. There are so many wonderful sections to this book. The characters so real. Unputdownable and incredibly readable.

I am as usual appalled and baffled by the negative reviews here on Amazon by people who are clearly not up to reading such an intelligent book. This is not a plotty book but there is a plot there, it's about people and there are delicious clues trailed throughout but it's several wonderful scenes (when little Wilfred finds Mrs Cow) and incisive observations of people and how they behave that make this book a never-ending treat.

Don't read it if you're after Downton Abbey clap-trap or are in a hurry. Hollinghurst really is an extraordinary novelist and this is every bit as good, possibly better, than The Sparsholt Affair
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on 9 October 2012
I have no doubt that this novel will be on an Eng. lit reading list in universities in years to come. It reminds me of E.M. Forster and I wasn't surprised to see Forster quoted and later Virginia Woolf and Ivy Compton Burnett referenced. The novel will offer students ample opportunity to dissect it as EngLit students do, as they try to work out the author's intentions and produce their own "clever" theories.
I enjoyed the first half of the novel and liked the device of jumping forward in time in each section so that the reader took a while to work out who the new characters were and what was their relation to previous characters. However by the time Paul Bryant was established I was losing the will to live. I rarely ever abandon a book and so I continued in the belief that somewhere all of it would come together and that Cecil Valance would prove to be more than a literary device on which to hang a novel. I re-read the last section thinking that I had missed something, but all I was left with were characters with feet of clay and few redeeming features. Perhaps it was the author's intention to portray human life as infinitely forgettable. If so he succeeded.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 15 July 2011
Not as completely engrossing and hypnotising as The Spell or The Line of Beauty, this is nonetheless an amazing book. It does start rather slowly: I felt especially uninvolved by the rather repellent, manipulative poet Cecil, whose presence haunts the entire book. Then there is frustration because just as one starts to enjoy a particular set of characters, it is all change (due to the book's episodic structure), and the time machine moves forward by decades. With each new beginning, much plot development has taken place "offstage", and it sometimes leaves the reader a bit flat to be told a particular character died/ committed suicide/was killed in the war, in quite such a cursory manner.

On the other hand, Hollinghurst has the most amazing ability to evoke particular physical states of being: desire, arousal, drunkenness... and to send the reader through the different periods of time, using tiny details, without it ever being 'historical' in the annoying fashion of historical fiction. It plays with fictionality and story, questioning biography, lies and letters along the way. And the way in which the novel evokes the hidden world of homosexuality, its existence in the woods, laundry rooms and inglenooks, behind sheds, on the backseats of cars, and on the rooftops, just out of sight of all the 'normal' folk, is spectacular; as is Hollinghurst's account of how secrets move slowly to the surface in life, sometimes never quite making it.

Though some reviewers have commented there's less actual sex than in "the Line of Beauty", the novel's treatment of gayness is really powerful; watching how life changes for the gay characters, I felt very moved at the point where it becomes possible for someone to be announced as a man's 'husband'.

The book has an extreme beauty, as a result of so clearly capturing a reality; I just wish so much that there had been one character in it I had really liked, and had been able to follow from start to finish. I understand this was part of the long timespan, but it seemed very slightly cold. I can't take off a whole star for that, though! So five stars: extremely beautiful.
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on 15 October 2012
this book was ordered and arrived promptly. it was the book that my wifes monthly bookclub had chosen so she was able to read it ready for the clubs review
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on 11 May 2017
Excellent book. Really enjoyed it and love Alan Hollinghurst's writing. Very clever the way the different parts are interlinked. Definitely recommend it..
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on 28 January 2012
I started this book full of hope. I adored The Line of Beauty - and the first chapter of The Stranger's Child drew me in so completely I immediately put the book down as i didn't want to finish it too soon! The characters pre WW1 were so engaging and the elegance and wonderful descriptions were what I expected after LOB. I was glad to see such strong female characters here and i know that had been a criticism in the past - in fact they stood head and shoulders above all the men. Alan Hollinghurst is obsessed with class but that is okay as so are most of we, the subtle tell tale signs which give the imposters away are so well described - as are all the socially awkward situations as we expect. The only question I would have is does Mr H really think every man has had/would have a gay experience? or is it an aristocracy thing? This aspect made it seem unlikely as I cant recall one male in the book where at least a liaison was suggested. However I was dying to see how the secret which had been believed destroyed for so long would emerge - but it didn't emerge and the end of the book was the biggest let down ever - I felt like it just trailed off. I actually started thinking I must have skipped a chapter but no - perhaps it leaves it open for a sequel but I wont be buying in hard back next time. Whilst I am still thinking about the characters in the earlier chapters, the later ones were less charming. I still love the wonderful writing - but after such a wait for this - I was a little annoyed by the last page - I was robbed!
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on 3 July 2012
This is an intriguing book. I found myself constantly wanting more 'closure' but that will only come with accurate memories on the part of the novel's many characters. But what is an accurate memory? Whose memory is correct? The main event is the visit of a young aristocrat, Cecil Vallance, to the middle-class home of a fellow student, George Sawle, and his sexual encounters with both George and George's sister Daphne. This event occurs early on in the story and the remainder explores how Vallance and the poem he wrote during his weekend visit become mythologised after Vallance's death in WW1.

I was reminded of 'Possession' (A.S. Byatt) as Hollinghurst employs the device of literary sleuthing for the poem in the latter part of the book. This is just one of many devices employed - are there too many?

This is not a 'gay' novel like 'The Spell' or 'The Line of Beauty', it is a novel with some gay characters. It is a book that will repay both a second, and maybe third, reading.
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