Tuesday, July 24, 2012


The Stranger's Child, Alan Hollinghurst, Alfred A Knopf, 2011, 435 pp

Here is another book I might have put off reading had it not been for The Tournament of Books, in which it went up against Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife. I struggled with both books and I suppose the struggles were good for me as a reader. Bottom line: I did not really like The Stranger's Child.

It is carefully and exhaustively written, so just reading the prose was somewhat enjoyable. Hollinghurst covers more than four generations of British history including two world wars, telling the much worked over tale of the decline of the gentry. 

Cecil Valance, the character around whom this long, somewhat disjointed novel is built, was a poet. I have my own issues with poetry, basically feeling that like classical music, its day is long over. The heyday of poetry was probably during the Golden Age of Greece and, in my opinion, a love of writing, reading, and reciting poetry coincides with the absence of recording technology and radio. Possibly the best contemporary poetry is that created by rappers.

But I digress.

Cecil Valance was also bisexual and his two favorite lovers were George and his sister Daphne. All manner of confusing and mysterious sexual affairs litter this novel, demonstrating that such things cross class lines (no new news there), while acting as a quasi-historical account of homosexuality, mostly male, over the last hundred years.

Another theme or thread, the one I enjoyed most, concerns the art of biography. In face, Hollinghurst in his coy but mannered way, delves so deeply into the methods, combativeness, and trials of biographers that I predict he will write one himself.

I recalled this author's 2005 Booker Prize winner, The Line of Beauty, as a good, gripping read. But when I looked back at my short recap, it sounds pretty tepid.

If I had been the judge in that round of TOB, I would have given it to The Tiger's Wife simply because Obreht's wild and messy novel is wild and messy. Hollinghurst's characters are wild and messy but his writing in The Stranger's Child almost strangled me.

(The Stranger's Child is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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