Book Review: The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst

The Stranger's Child by Alan HollinghurstThis 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.

Rating: 4/5

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


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

17 Responses to Book Review: The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst

  1. I have this on my tbr-list. So far I have not read any Holinghurst, but he appears to be one of the best British authors around at the moment and from your descrption this book seems more interesting at first sight than The Line of Beauty, which I have had unread on the shelves for some time now.

  2. Yours is the first review I’ve read on this book, and was curious as I just added it to my holds list at the library (the audio edition). I’ve been meaning to read this author, but just haven’t

    thanks for sharing.

  3. Nadine Nys says:

    I’m not sure about this one, Judith, although I would like to read something by Hollinghurst. Maybe one of his other books would be a better start.

  4. RFW says:

    Just finished this book – review coming soon. My take on it was a little different.

  5. Trisha says:

    I can never quite tell how I feel about longer books where nothing much happens. Sometimes I love that meandering, slow quality; other times, I am bored out of my freaking mind. Really great writing can definitely make up for it though.

  6. Tes says:

    I think I will like this book if I can find the copy in my local store 🙂 It sounds really interesting.

  7. Corri says:

    I very much enjoyed Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty and like his style of writing. This was challenging and I would agree with you that the writing is beautiful and at the top of literary fiction. I also had some questions about various relationships, as you do. If you’re interested my review is here : . I read it quite a while back now but it lingers as one of the very enjoyable reads of this year.

  8. Athira says:

    I have this on my wishlist and am hoping to read it sometime. From your review, it sounds like something I would enjoy, so I’ll look for it.

  9. Tony says:

    I disagree with some of what you said. Although Valance was not a first-rate poet, ‘Two Acres’ was described as a classic, a school set text, and at many times throughout the novel, people *did* think he was a great poet. Part of Hollingworth’s skill was in showing how public opinion of Valance’s worth fluctuated over the century, with admiration growing into respect, followed in later generations by patronising acknowledgement. It was this painting of an elaborate, ever-changing portrait in four dimensions which required all those pages.

    Possibly 😉

    • Leeswammes says:

      Tony, you may be right. I was never convinced that Valance was a great poet but indeed, there were times that people thought so. Still, the book was too much for me. I liked especially the first part of the book, but the later part had some coincidences that I didn’t buy and I started to get enough of the story.

  10. Bill says:

    Has hints of Rupert Brooke’s life.

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