Book Review: The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst
November 19, 2011 17 Comments
This book wasn’t one I’d have chosen myself but it was a choice for my real-life book group. In a way, it was good to be “forced” to read this book, as I had never read anything by this author before but I had been curious to read something by him.
It was very literary, and not an awful lot happened. Which was fine, it just was rather long. A shorter book that is as well-written as this, would have been just as satisfactory.
The Stranger’s Child: What it is about
The book describes several generations of two families that become intertwined when their sons become friends. More than friends, it is suspected. The sister of one of them marries into the other family.
One of the friends is a poet, Cecil Valance, who becomes sligthly famous in his time, around the first world-war. Other members of the families also become published authors.
In the later parts of the book, people who are fascinated by the Cecil the poet, start to dig into the families’ past. Some family members are happy to cooperate while others are rather sceptical about why they should reveal the good and the bad about their family.
The Stranger’s Child: What I thought
I liked how the book described the rise and fall of an aristocratic family from the beginning of the previous century. The descriptions and events seemed very life-like and believable. I felt as if I was given a window in time to meet some interesting characters with a high sense of etiquette but above all, a great sense of self-interest.
There were some weak points in the book. For instance, at some point, a young man called Paul started to investigate the family. As far as I could see, Paul becomes involved with this family by accident, but coincidentally, he was already interested in Cecil Valance. The same with Peter, the teacher who worked at the school that used to be the Valances’ mansion. I didn’t buy that. Valance wasn’t a famous poet so where did all these Valance-obsessed people come from?
There was a fair degree of homosexuality in this book, or, in the earlier decades of the story, hints of it. All in the best possible taste, just more so than in the average fiction novel.
The writing was beautiful, funny at times and a pleasure to read. If you enjoy literary fiction then this is definitely a good read. I do enjoy literary fiction, but preferably in smaller measures than this. The book seemed unnecessarily long. It wasn’t the case that the book went on beyond what was necessary, but more that each part of the book could have been reduced in size.
I got this book: bought at a book shop
I read this in: English, the original language
Number of pages: 564
First published: 2011
Genre: literary fiction, historical fiction