The Stranger's Child

by Alan Hollinghurst

Paperback, 2012



Call number



Picador (2012), Edition: Main Market Ed., 564 pages


In the late summer of 1913, George Sawle brings his Cambridge schoolmate--a handsome, aristocratic young poet named Cecil Valance--to his family's modest home outside London for the weekend. George is enthralled by Cecil, and soon his sixteen-year-old sister, Daphne, is equally besotted by him and the stories he tells about Corley Court, the country estate he is heir to. But what Cecil writes in Daphne's autograph album will change their and their families' lives forever: a poem that, after Cecil is killed in the Great War and his reputation burnished, will become a touchstone for a generation, a work recited by every schoolchild in England. Over time, a tragic love story is spun, even as other secrets lie buried--until, decades later, an ambitious biographer threatens to unearth them.… (more)

Media reviews

För en litteraturvetare är romanen förstås rena tivolit, med sina beskrivningar av research, intervjuer med mer eller mindre frispråkiga släktingar, pusslandet med ledtrådar och akademisk tuppfäktning.
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In The Stranger’s Child he weaves a number of stories around the idea of Brooke and his posthumous fortunes, detailing the lives caught up in the reputational arc of a Brooke-like poet called Cecil Valance between 1913 and 2008. Both world wars, fought offstage, have effects that ramify
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throughout the novel, as do changing attitudes to gay people and to biographical disclosure. Hollinghurst writes with amused tenderness about Rupert Trunk-type phenomena, investing them with dignity and pathos, but he also puts both hands on opportunities for irony, arch humour and, intermittently, an un-Jamesian directness.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member cushlareads
*spoiler free as much as possible*

This beautifully written novel is a family saga, but so much more. It starts in 1913 with 16 year old Daphne Sawle lying in a hammock excitedly waiting for her brother George and his friend Cecil to come home for a long weekend. Home is "Two Acres" near London,
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where Daphne lives with her widowed mother Freda, her older brother Hubert, and George (when he's not at Cambridge). The book spans almost a century and we get to track the family members and their relations to one another in detail. There is also lots in here about how attitudes to World War 1 have changed, the Bloomsbury group and the war poets, how family myths get built up, and most of all, and not surprisingly because it's Alan Hollinghurst, how being gay in England has changed.

The Sawles are comfortably off, but not rich. They're acutely aware that Cecil comes from a much posher family, the Valances, and spend a fair bit of the weekend worrying about diong things right. For example, Jonah, one of their general house servants, is assigned to be Cecil's valet for the weekend, and has no clue what to do but pretends he does. George is infatuated with Cecil, whose strong personality comes through the whole novel. George worries about his mother and sister letting slip just how much detail he's told them about Cecil and his family. Lots happens during the weekend. (I said spoiler free!!) It felt like a rewritten version of Brideshead Revisited near the start, only backwards - the rich boy comes into the poorer family home.

There are 5 or 6 parts to the book, and 15-20 years between parts. Figuring out what was going on at the start of every new part was great fun. I don't think it's giving much away to say that by the end of the book Cecil, George, Daphne, Hubert and the rest of the family have all died, and we're left with the myths surrounding their lives and the impact they have had on several generation.

I loved this book and really hope it wins the Booker this year. Comparing it to other Booker winners that I've read, it's much better than The Finkler Question, not as good as Wolf Hall or The Remains of the Day but I am still happy giving it 5 stars. This is only half a review because I don't want to spoil it in case you go on to read it. I am dying to tell somebody how irritating I found one particular character but I will wait a few weeks!
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LibraryThing member kidzdoc
The novel, based in part on the life of the early 20th century English poet Rupert Brooke, opens at Two Acres, a Victorian estate in suburban London in 1913. George Sawle, a student at Cambridge, has invited his close friend Cecil Valance, a poet of modest talent and greater wealth, to spend a
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weekend with his family. Cecil's wit and striking good looks charm everyone in attendance, none more so than George's younger sister Daphne, an outspoken and independent minded 16 year old girl who spends her days reading and quoting from the poetry of Tennyson and Valance. After a raucous and unforgettable weekend, Cecil dedicates a poem to Daphne and the estate, which he wrote in the notebook that she lent to him.

Cecil dies tragically during the Great War soon afterward, and the uncovered poem gains widespread fame as a glimpse of English country life in a time of innocence. He is revered by Churchill and other leading public figures, and details about his life take on greater interest. However, Cecil's homosexuality is hidden by those closest to him, as these activities are not to be discussed in public.

Although the poet serves as the main focus of the novel, Daphne serves as the book's central character. The book moves forward in time from 1913 to 2008, and through her and other main characters within and surrounding the Sawle and Valance families Hollinghurst paints a detailed picture of British upper middle class society through most of the 20th and early 21st centuries, including its preferences and deep prejudices, and the changes in its view of sexual behaviors. The novel is enhanced by the author's comic wit, and its characters are as finely portrayed as in any book I've read in recent memory. However, the novel's last section was flat and somewhat contrived, which kept me from giving it a 5 star rating. Despite that, The Stranger's Child is one of the best novels I've read this year, and I think it would be a worthy winner of this year's Booker Prize.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
Alan Hollinghurst's novel about the intrigue(?) surrounding a minor poet who dies in WWI started out delightfully. The interactions between Cecil Valance (the poet) and George, Daphne, and others in the Sawle household are lightly tense with the mystery of who Cecil really is. In each large
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section, the novel moves forward significantly in time and the second and third sections, "Revel" and "Steady, Boys, Steady!" are where Hollinghurst demonstrates his talent for subtlety and humor. In Daphne, who marries Cecil's brother after the war, we get a complicated character entrenched in her time. She numbs herself with alcohol to manage the loss of a romantic life and determinedly takes any number of secrets to her grave. In Paul - a bank employee who later becomes a biographer with intense interest in the life of Cecil Valance - we get insight into the anguish experienced by those who must so carefully hide their true selves that they aren't even fully aware of the process of hiding. That is, Paul knows all too well what he is hiding. It's the constancy and depth of the hiding that he takes for granted. Hollinghurst is neither pedantic nor bitter about this necessary invisibility. Indeed, he seems rather amused by the interpersonal games young men and women played as they came of age in the early to mid 20th century with various unnameable desires (and we're not just talking sex here), and his novel allows us to travel through the changes in the consciousness of erudite English society of that century.

Hollinghurst is a wonderful writer. Occasionally, a sentence or passage would almost take my breath away. He explores the dehumanizing social mores of the time with irreverent humor and he understands the longing of the most mundane of human souls. Still, by the last quarter of the novel, it was a slog. I stopped caring whether Cecil's queerness would be made public and what impact that would have on his reputation and popularity as a minor poet of the early 20th century. I needed *something* just a little bit surprising or exciting to happen. This is a novel with more promise than achievement.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
“He was asking for memories, too young himself to know that memories were only memories of memories.” (Pt 4, Ch 10)

The Stranger’s Child begins in the early 1900s and spans several generations. Cecil Valance, mediocre poet and wealthy school chum of George Sawle, visits the Sawles at Two
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Acres, their modest country home in Middlesex. Cecil and George are lovers, secretly of course, given the era. George’s younger sister, Daphne, is also attracted to Cecil, an attraction which is encouraged by the poet for self-serving reasons. On taking his leave of the Sawles, Cecil writes a poem entitled “Two Acres” in Daphne’s journal. When he is killed in WWI shortly thereafter, his poem becomes ridiculously famous and Valance is elevated to greatness. Incredibly, the lives of the Sawles come to be defined by their acquaintance with Cecil Valance. Some generations later, a young biographer seeks to tell Cecil’s story – all of it. Needless to say, the truth will be hard gained.

The novel is written in five parts, but the next does not follow where the last left off. Rather, Hollinghurst leaves the reader to determine when and where he has picked up the narrative. Themes include the instability of memory, the way it shapes and reshapes our lives, even inaccurately, with time. Through the young biographer, Paul, Hollinghurst seems to advocate how unlikely it is that we might ever really know another, but through the first person. There’s a theme somewhere in the focus on homosexuality, too; but truthfully, I’m not sure what Hollinghurst’s intent was here. I do know it seemed odd to me (and was somewhat grating, if I’m honest) that not a single heterosexual relationship in the novel appeared contented or sustainable.

The strength of The Stranger’s Child is Hollinghurst’s writing, which is unquestionably beautiful. The first part of the narrative, highly reminiscent of Brideshead Revisited, drew me in easily. But neither the story or the characters were able to sustain my interest over the novel’s considerable length. Suffice to say the Booker acclaim fell somewhat flat on me.
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LibraryThing member Schatje
What has happened to our standards for great literature? Whatever happened to requiring a novel to be well-written AND entertaining before considering it to have literary merit worthy of an award such as the Mann Booker Prize? After reading this tome, I feel I should be the one to receive an award
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- an award for dogged determination. It took a real effort to finish the book; I did so only out of some bizarre sense of fairness, wanting to give the author every chance to live up to his reputation. If life were fair, I would be given back the hours I devoted to the reading.

This book is a multi-generational family saga with a gay twist. In 1913, Cecil Valance, a young poet, visits the family of his friend, George Sawle. The two university students are lovers, although this relationship, of course, is kept secret. Cecil is actually bisexual and makes an advance to Daphne, George's sixteen-year-old, impressionable sister. As a parting gift, Cecil leaves a poem which eventually becomes his best-known; everyone seems to assume that Daphne is the muse, unaware that George is the more likely inspiration. Four other sections of the book, covering various years between 1926 and 2008, touch on the lives of Valance and Sawle family members, all somehow looking back to that initial contact between the families in 1913. Obviously, much changes in that time period: some people die and others are born, reputations are made and revised, some secrets are kept and some remain hidden, attitudes to homosexuality evolve, country life is superseded by urbanization.

I've read many reviews of the book which praise Hollinghurst's ability to use the English language in original ways, and I admit to admiring some of his lyrical turns of phrase. His diction is often described as lush. The problem is that reading his lush writing feels like roaming through an extravagantly lush garden. Are there really beautiful flowers in all that abundant growth? Did the author not see the irony in his titular allusion to Tennyson: "And year by year the landscape grow"? Too much of the author's lush style and flowery descriptions of surroundings may make one want to become a lush!

Hollinghurst tackles some serious themes (e.g. the limits of human knowledge, especially knowledge of others; the fallibility of memory since "memories [are] only memories of memories"; the vagaries of aesthetics and literary reputation; biography as a type of fiction; the history of changing attitudes to homosexuality) so can justifiably be praised for his erudition. However, erudition conveyed tediously does not make for good fiction.

Good interpretative literature will possess an interesting plot and characters since they too are elements of fiction. There is not much of a plot because not much happens; the focus is on analyzing and re-analyzing the initial event, Cecil's visit to Two Acres, and its consequences. A lack of plot can be forgiven but poor characterization cannot. In my studies of literature in university, I was taught that good characterization requires that characters behave consistently, be motivated, and be credible. In this novel there is little explanation of motivation; the reader does not get to understand what motivates characters to behave as they do, to make the choices they do. I can understand how this lack of understanding helps to develop the theme of our inability to truly understand others, but vague, abstract development of an extensive cast of characters, all of whom are shallow and unlikable, is problematic. Furthermore, virtually every man in the book is gay, whether he does or does not recognize his latent homosexual desires.

Many people have commented on similarities between this novel and others such as Ishiguro's "The Remains of the Day" and McEwan's"Atonement" and Byatt's "Possession." I would highly recommend all three of these; Hollinghurst's seems a poor amalgamation. The impression is that his editor, in awe of Hollinghurst's reputation, was afraid to challenge much of the author's pointless rambling. Were the author's reputation based solely on this book, Hollinghurst would be deemed a second-rate writer, just like Cecil Valance.
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LibraryThing member wortklauberlein
Alan Hollinghurst takes on a long sweep of history in this story of upper-class Britons and their intricate, intertwined lives. On the cusp of World War I, the Sawle family welcomes son George's school pal Cecil Valance, who quickly charms the pants off at least one of them. He leaves behind a poem
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about the Sawles's home "Two Acres" and a lasting impression on young Daphne. The next chapters are set in the mid-1920s, with Cecil now a famous Dead Poet, and Daphne married to his younger brother Dudley and living at the Valance estate along with the dowager Lady Valance. Time moves on, and so does Daphne, until in the 1970s, she meets a young bank clerk who later attempts to write a biography of Cecil, the really not very good, but irretrievably Dead, Poet.

Much of this I found occasionally mildly interesting but more often somewhat tedious. More engaging was pondering afterward what underlies Hollinghurst's novel: the mutability of memory; the morphing of history, personal and global, through differing perspectives, notably that of gay men; the decline of poetry and particularly of the capital P poets of Rupert Brooke's era; the impossibility of writing a biography that even with all the facts straight can get at the Truth; the possibility that photography can better capture reality. But my first thought on finishing the book was to wonder about the seemingly insatiable and protean appetites of the upper-crustians....

The houses in "The Stranger's Child" are among the best characters, and also morph and are found and lost and live and die and hold countless secrets. Their stories touched me more profoundly than did those of the much-married Daphne and the beautiful, shallow Cecil.
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LibraryThing member NeilDalley
What a sumptuous feast. We move in this book through five distinct periods of time with the work and life of a second-rate fictional poet Cecil Valance running through as the thread that links them together. As ever Hollinghurst's writing is superb and makes you stop and re-read sentences simply to
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savour his skill. However, this books is very different from his earlier work with far less sex and far more dialogue. The storyline also seems much more complex and has elements of the thriller running through it - will they find they lost letters or missing parts of the poem?

I loved the Forster-esque opening section and in my mind the "Two Acres" of this book became synonymous with "Windy Corner" the home of the Honeychurch family where they are visited by another Cecil who also rather looks down on their suburban home. The third section which introduces to us Paul Bryant the young provincial bank clerk soon to be Cecil's biographer is also very enjoyable but I confess that I found the fourth section where Bryant is writing his book about Cecil V rather tedious. The reader already knows most of the secrets but we have to watch on the sidelines as Bryant is frustrated at nearly every turn from finding out the truth.

As ever Hollinghurst creates very real, complex characters complete with all the conflicting positive and negative aspects you'd expect from real humanity. There are no heroes and you come away liking characters while suspecting their motives and understanding their behaviour while wishing it were otherwise.
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LibraryThing member BLBera
The Stranger's Child is a beautifully written novel that explores the extent to which we can know others. The novel spans almost a century, beginning in 1915 with poet Cecil Valance's visit to his friend George's house, "Two Acres."

Cecil is central to the rest of the novel although he dies during
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WWI. His life and death influence his family and the biographers and scholars who want to write about him. In a wonderful irony, we see the biographers interview people involved with Cecil, and we know they are asking all of the wrong questions. We, the readers, also know that many of Cecil's family and friends knew only bits of his life.

The language is exquisite. Hollinghurst captures people and places with a few deft phrases. He describes Wilfrid's relationship with his father: "So Wilfrid went to his father, and was pulled experimentally for a second or two against the heavy strange-scented skirts of the brocade dressing gown. It was the touch of privilege, a feel of the luxurious concessions allowed when something awful had happened, and in the interesting surprise of it he at once stopped crying."

People at a party: "In the deepening shadows between pools of candlelight, the guests, gathering up bags and glasses, conversations stretching and breaking, in an amiable jostle as they bunched in through the french windows seemed ... like a flickering frieze..."

This wonderful novel will certainly be one of the year's best.
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LibraryThing member edgeworth
This was the first novel I decided to read for my 2011 Booker challenge, not out of interest, but because it’s the only book on the longlist that I am absolutely confident will make the shortlist. I’ve never read any of Hollinghurst’s previous work, but his last novel, The Line of Beauty, won
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the 2004 Booker (over my favourite novel of all time, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas).

Hollinghurst is generally considered to be one of the finest English writers alive, but his reputation and his previous win are not the only reason he’s the bookie’s favourite to take home this year’s prize. There’s a phrase called “Oscar bait,” which refers to a film that calculatingly appeals to the literary sensibilities of the Academy: an important historical setting (especially World War II), a little-known illness or affliction, being a biopic, homosexuality etc. The King’s Speech, The English Patient and Forrest Gump are all excellent examples. But the phrase Booker bait could be used as well, and it seems it is, Grub Street being the first but not the only Google hit for it. Although the Booker prize is more likely to reward inventive and unusual novels than its transatlantic counterpart the Pulitzer (which often goes to a multi-generational story of immigrants), it’s still susceptible to seduction by a 550-page brick of a family saga set across the sweeping panorama of 20th century history. Particularly if much of it is set in an English country manor, as The Stranger’s Child is.

The Stranger’s Child follows the story of the Sawle and Valance families, beginning in 1913 with the young poet Cecil Valance visiting his “friend” George Sawle at his family’s home for the weekend. While here, Cecil writes a poem called “Two Acres” which later becomes famous, and the rest of the book follows the intertwining fates of the Sawles and Valances, and the rise and fall of Cecil’s literary reputation. The later chapters feature a biographer interviewing the surviving family members and penning a biography about him, and the novel’s key theme is about how history consists largely of memories and mythologies, rather than what actually happened.

I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it. Hollinghurst’s prose style, while perfectly functional, isn’t particularly beautiful, and he rarely impressed me with his descriptions or turns of phrase. He also has an annoying habit of having his characters endlessly analyse every little thing said to them, or that they say, playing it back over in their heads and doubting the motives behind it, or how it appeared to other people. This is of course how people’s thought processes actually run, even if we’re not aware of it most of the time, but to read it on the page is quickly tiring.

The five chapters in the book make massive leaps across time, and most of the action in the characters’ lives – births, deaths, marriages and separations – takes place off-screen. This is part of the point of the novel, but I found it difficult to keep track of all the new children and relationships, and by the end of the novel there were characters whom I’d forgotten about, and whom I couldn’t quite remember how they were related to the other characters. This may be my problem, not Hollinghurst’s, but I’d be remiss not to mention it.

My overall impression of The Stranger’s Child was a mostly (but not terribly) dull book, which I often found myself slogging through, half a thousand pages of parties and domestic evenings and discussions about poets. And gay sex, of course, though apparently he toned it down from his last novels.

Definitely a shoe-in for the shortlist and, as I mentioned earlier, the bookie’s favourite to win. But as I also mentioned, the Booker committee isn’t as susceptible to “bait” works as the Academy Awards or the Pulitzer Prize. They’re just as likely to reward it to a historical fiction novel like True History of the Kelly Gang, or a work of magical realism like Life of Pi. If The Stranger’s Child does win – which is still a strong possibility – it will probably be at the expense of a more interesting novel.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
It took me awhile to finish this novel, partly because life has gotten busy, but also because it just isn't the sort of book one rushes through. The prose is lush and needs to be appreciated. And there are little clues to the connections between characters in the four parts that take a bit of
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thinking to put together.

A family saga of sorts, The Stranger's Child is told in five parts, beginning with the 1913 summer visit of blossoming poet Cecil Valance to Two Acres, the family home of his schoolmate, George Sawle. Hollinghurst creates an atmosphere reminiscent of Atonement: the idle rich, the charming country home, the excessive passions of youth--and of course, the looming prospect of war. Sixteen-year old Daphne becomes enthralled Cecil, and it appears that he, too, is attracted to her; but his real love is her brother.

By 1926, Cecil has died a war hero; like Rupert Brooke, he has become an even more celebrated poet posthumously. Daphne, we find, is unhappily married to his younger brother. She is mother to two children and has fallen for a younger artist, Revel Ralph. Corley Court, the celebrated family estate, is about to be put on the market when the Sawle's--mother, son, and daughter-in law, as well as "Mrs. Cow," Freda's German friend, come for a visit. At the same time, a biographer arrives to interview all who had known Cecil.

The story moves through three more eras: 1967, 1977, and 2008, and Daphne, her descendants, her brother George, and others from the earlier sections appear. New on the scene is Paul Bryant, a semi-educated bank teller with a fascination for Cecil Valance, who dreams of writing a new and more reliable biography.

While The Stranger's Child is indeed a family saga, it's also something of a mystery, as well as a meditation on memory and truth and a commentary on class, celebrity, love, and endurance. A little slow at times, the book was nonetheless an enjoyable read. I do have to agree with other LT readers who were disturbed not by the homosexuality in the novel but by the fact that one comes away thinking that, here, only gay couples truly know how to love; the heterosexual couples are all cruel, self-seeking and/or unfaithful in their relationships. The reverse stereotype is a bit hard to swallow and rather unrealistic.
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LibraryThing member John
A brilliant multi-generational, multi-perspective, multi-issue social, personal, economic tracing of history and mores in the United Kingdom through five episodes that take place in 1913, 1926, 1967,1977, 2008. The connecting thread is the life of Cecil Valance, a minor poet lionized after his
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death in WWI. Cecil was bi-sexual but more gay. His life is like a rock in a pond that sets off ripples through years and a network of people, especially as a biographer tries to unearth the "truth" of his life. But what is truth and how does one try to define, much less disentangle, patterns of life and relationships across generations and decades of lives beset by memory, false memory, reconstructed memory. So pulling one thread of biography might lead in one direction while another could be quite different. This is not unlike Richard Feynman's description of a quantum system as one that has not just one history, but every possible history. How to handle all those states in trying to describe a life and its effects?

This is also a novel about the impossibility of truly knowing another person, of being able to "live in their skin", and the even greater impossibility of re-constructing the life of a person. It is about the fallibility of memory, by its nature and by its tendency to reconfirm whatever patterns it has constructed of the past: "....too young himself to know that memories were only memories of memories. It was diamond-rare to remember something fresh", and, "...he could see that the thing that she'd made had replaced the now remote original experience, and couldn't usefully be interrogated for any further unrevealed details". Hollinghurst is a writer who stuns with his perspicacity and sensitivity in exploring and describing individual emotions and the relationships that make life. His writing throbs: "The April brilliance that threatened the fire in the morning-room here threw sloping drops and shards of colour across the wall and across the white marble fireplace. They painted the blind marble busts of Homer and Milton pink, turquoise and buttercup. The colours seemed to warm and caress them as they slid and stretched".
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LibraryThing member TheIdleWoman
This is yet another lyrical book from Hollinghurst. He is particularly good at representing the allure of closed circles to outsiders. Those circles can be social, as we see in the third part of this book, when middle-class Paul finds himself in the charmed circle of Mrs Jacobs and her family. They
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can also be circles of friendship or love, like the relationship between Cecil and George at the beginning of the book, of which innocent Daphne wants so much to be a part. Hollinghurst's broader theme here is the persistence of memory. He explores the way that the past can overpower the present and drain life of its savour; the relationship of biographer to biographee; and the efforts to which people go, to ensure that their view becomes the canonical view.

It all centres on Cecil Valance, a talented young poet who spends a few days in 1916 staying with George Sawle, a university friend. Flirting harmlessly with his friend's sister Daphne (while simultaneously carrying on a much more serious flirtation with George), Cecil writes a long poem in her autograph book. When he is killed in action in the First World War, his family promotes and celebrates his talent. The poem in Daphne's book is published and becomes recognised as his greatest work; and Daphne herself gradually becomes inseparable from, and oppressed by, her youthful love affair. We dip into the story five times over the course of several decades, witnessing the meteoric rise of Cecil's fame. Hollinghurst charts the misfortunes of posthumous reputation: Cecil's poetry gradually loses its popularity but his private life comes in for ever greater scrutiny and research. In the course of the book we meet several people who write books about Cecil, ranging from his proud, tormented brother who wants only to escape from his shadow, to the young researcher who is determined to dig up 'the truth', no matter what the emotional cost to Cecil's friends and family.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first section of the book, because I'm a sucker for Brideshead Revisited and The Go-Between and Atonement and all those stories of country houses lingering on the brink of, or between, the wars. I was also interested to see Hollinghurst giving such a key role to a female character - Daphne is the rock around which all else swirls and eddies - when he has traditionally focused so strongly on gay male relationships. But... As the book went on, it steadily became clear that virtually all of Hollinghurst's male characters are either openly gay or struggling towards the door of the closet. Now, in itself I have no issue with this (I've enjoyed Hollinghurst's other books), but as he decided to give strong roles to a couple of women in "The Stranger's Child", I felt sorry that he only really seemed to be interested in the romantic dynamics between his male characters. (To be fair to Hollinghurst, he did throw in a curveball of sexual equality by giving one of his female characters a brief Sapphic moment.) However, do you know what would have made me genuinely happy about this book? I would have liked to see that just one of his heterosexual couples was happy. All of them seemed to be in loveless, passionless matches where there was no spark or affection between the partners - the men distant and troubled, the women aloof, intellectual and frustrated. The only people who really fall in love or enjoy themselves in Hollinghurst's worlds, it seems, are the gay men. And, while I admire the elegance of his writing and the cleverness of the concept in this book, that void remains at the emotional centre of his work.

It may just be me. And I remain an admirer of his writing and will read his next book too, if only to see where he goes next.
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LibraryThing member Laura400
This is a very good book, in a sweeping-literary-saga way. It seemed to me like a (much) better version of A.S. Byatt's "The Children's Book." He's an excellent writer. It's a good story. But, perplexingly, I think I may like another of his books better. So it seems that "The Stranger's Child" has
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both convinced me of his tremendous talent and yet somehow missed the highest mark for me. But it's so good that it left me wanting to read more of his work.
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LibraryThing member dgoo
Brilliant writer with a gift for manipulating the English language, Hollingsworth has created a family saga that spans its generations over a century, following the Sawles and Valances, two literary families that ran with the Bloomsbury set, were dramatically affected by the two wars and
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experienced the ripple effect of some of its prominent members' hidden sexual orientation. So many times I found myself thinking after a particular sentence or passage, "Oh, that nuance, he's got it just right, that is how it feels, seems, appears... and he put into words, I need to mark this passage." Stylistically, mood, setting, and subject matter wise, there are similarities to the work of Henry James, Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, E.M. Forster, Ian McEwan.
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LibraryThing member jody
This year’s Booker Prize shortlist has yielded few surprises for me this year, and Hollinghurst’s contribution falls within my slightly disappointed category.

The Sawles of Two Acres are excited – George is bringing home a friend from Cambridge for the weekend, a poet called Cecil. Sister
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Daphne is first to meet Cecil but before long he has them all under his spell and a seemingly eternal connection to the two families is forged.

Sound a little Brideshead Revisited? Well ... maybe, except Cecil doesn’t really hang around all that long, losing his life in the trenches of World War I. But what he leaves behind, both in spirit and in the form of his poems is what drives this story, although I’m afraid the story is much like the drive Miss Daisy would take … in a word, slow.

Nobody does the upper crust of contemporary English society quite like Hollinghurst. They sweep through the pages at their own leisure and under their own steam, taking no interest in dramatising for your benefit. Clever writing, but in this instance frustrating for me. Time and again, Hollinghurst would build to what seemed to be a climax where all would come to light and everyone exposed, just to slam the lid back on, and that infuriating British wall of respectability would stop you cold!

Hollinghurst’s Line of Beauty does not differ much from this latest offering, except it does it in half the pages, so the outcome and the road to it is much more intense. For me, what is compelling about his style of writing is lost within these 600+ pages.

So if you must, take the drive. Just don’t expect a whirlwind of a ride, for what you get is a sedate ramble.
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LibraryThing member CasualFriday
Here's a book that will bring some comfort to those suffering from Downtown Abbey Withdrawal Syndrome. The narrative spans several generations of well-educated, well-to-do Brits and their connection with a young poet who died in the Great War. Cecil Valance is famous for one poem, Two Acres, about
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the charms of an English country house, and, most readers assume, of its female inhabitant. The reader learns in the opening pages that Cecil is in fact having an affair with the young lady's brother, a fact which a subsequent biographer is determined to ferret out.

It's a very enjoyable read that goes down like candy, in spite of its leisurely pace. I was worried at first that the generational tales would be purely episodic, but they end up swirling around a number of themes, most obviously the fragile nature of "truth" when talking about human lives. It's telling that the character we come to know most intimately is the biographer, while his subjects are more elusive.

Alan Hollinghurst won the Booker for The Line of Beauty, and now I suppose I have one more title to add to my wish list.
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LibraryThing member BrianEWilliams
A major disappointment for me. I slogged through all 320 pages (it seemed longer) in an unsuccessful search for a coherent story or message. In the end I can agree with one commentator who said it was about the passing of time and literary posterity.
The narrative lacked continuity for me, I found
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it to be a disjointed collection of scenarios in which characters popped up without proper (or in some cases, no) introduction to the reader. A good example is Rob the book dealer in Part 5 who serves mostly as an observer at a memorial service for Peter Rowe, a character from earlier in the book. Some other characters come and go which made it a challenge for me to remember who they were.
I hope I can like the next Hollinghurst novel.
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LibraryThing member MarthaJeanne
Boring. Hard to figure out who and when and where every time he starts a new chapter. And in the end nothing happens and noone's charcter is developed.
LibraryThing member lxydis
Started and finished this book in less than a weekend--it's been a long time since I've lost myself in a book that way, and it was a great pleasure.
Those who liked Atonement I think will also like this; TSC is reminiscent of Atonement in both its period sweep (taking place in the same era, TSC also
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spans almost the whole 20th century) and its coming-of-age and discovery of sexual secrets, including the evocation of adolescent fervor and self-centered naiveté. I loved Atonement myself, but I would say TSC is possibly even better, in that it has all the elements of a brilliantly evoked story, well drawn characters and the historical novel aspect that British writers so excell at, BUT without Ian McEwan's knowing, ironic cleverness (I can understand why some readers don't take to McEwan) which is why I think people who did NOT like Atonement would also like this book.
It's also nice to see a sympathetic central character who is a woman, and a book that's so broadly good while still sharing with other AH novels his preoccupations with sexuality and gay politics, written, as always with AH, skillfully and beautifully. I hate when books are labeled "gay" or are overtly "political" and simplistic, and I can say that ASC is quite simply an excellent novel.
The only complaint I have reinforces what a good writer AH is: you want more of each of the characters/stories in each time period. Even as you get towards the end of the book, it's always with a bit of surprise and disappointment you realize that you've moved forward yet another 10 or 20 years and have to meet someone new. But, every time, AH manages to get you totally involved with each new person and eager to find their connection to the central characters that you started the book (and the century) with.
Some reviewers have compared this to ASByatt's Possession, which is a stretch--I guess the themes of literary discovery, memory and recording etc--but other than that they're very different. I suppose if you like ASB in general--as a 3rd person, british novelist of "traditional" narrative--you will probably like AH too. I adore ASByatt myself but Possession is my least favorite novel of hers, as it has some of the affected contrivedness of he worst of Ian McEwan, which can be hard to take.
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LibraryThing member alpin
This long, leisurely novel begins in 1913, when budding poet Cecil Valance visits the home of his Cambridge chum and lover George Sawle, where he charms Geroge's teen-age sister Daphne and pens a poem for her. After Cecil dies in the war, the poem becomes a beloved touchstone, his literary
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reputation is established and the novel follows the tangled relationships of his family, lovers and biographers over the next several generations. Beautifully written, with razor-sharp observations of class distinctions, the novel charts the changes in British social attitudes about homosexuality over the course of the 20th century. Excellent.
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LibraryThing member aelizabethj
I really struggled to finish this. The first two sections are brilliant - a bit of Brideshead Revisited but different enough that it was enthralling... Everything after just fell flat for me, and I plodded through the remaining 400 pages with an internal countdown to the end. I don't know why this
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didn't resonate with me, it had all the elements I would enjoy. At the end of the day, I'll try and reread it, but for now, I'm glad it's finished. 2.5 stars.
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LibraryThing member KatieANYC
Hollinghurst is the undisputed master of the classic English novel in the 21st century. Crumbling aristocratic families wandering around their estates saying lightly cruel things to each other as war descends … he’s the best. Here he also takes on themes of legacy, history, and memory with
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imaginative and satisfying ambition. I would say that the further the reader gets from the man himself, Cecil Valance, the more one longs for his era, but this is certainly deliberate on Hollinghurst’s part. He achieves nostalgia in the reader for a time we know first hand to have been full of confusion and pain. Very well done.
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LibraryThing member bobbieharv
Beautiful writing, of course, reminiscent of The Line of Beauty - especially in the first section, which I wished could have continued for the whole book. Instead, each of the next four sections jumped ahead in time, and switched focus among the characters, illuminating what changed and what
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remained the same in both them and the surrounding (upper class British) culture. An interesting device, but it left me wanting to know so much more about Cecil, who got killed off after the first section. Why were they all so obsessed with him?

So, in the end, it fell a bit flat.
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LibraryThing member otterley
This is in many ways quite a different book. Starting in the world of EM Forster, where the Edwardian bourgeoisie uncomfortably rubs shoulders with the nouveau very riche aristocracy, lubricated by poetry and sex; it changes setting, linking characters across a hundred years of profound social and
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economic change, united somehow by a piece of poetry, elusive, but somehow capturing some essence of the English character. Hollinghurst uses this device of the interlinked story to explore very many different themes - changing social attitudes to homosexuality (and women's relationships with gay men); literature and criticism; performance and silence; childhood and heredity; mental illness and charm; social status and economic cycles; education, architecture, discovery and, most importantly, mystery and secrecy. The book ends where it starts, with a breathless chase for revelation which is as tricky and elusive as the novel itself. For a writer often known for his openness and candour, this book celebrates the unspoken and confronts the question always there for fiction, and for us as humans living our own narratives - what can be said to be true? What survives of us, what stories, what fractional views - and this is as much true of those who are famous and have others paid to construct their narratives, as those who live undiscovered lives. Fascinating
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
After reading "The Line of Beauty" I found this to be a disappointment. His writing is excellent and he does a great job of conveying the inner thoughts and attitudes of his characters. They react to each social encounter with a multitude of attitudes. However, I basically found the story to be not
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very compelling. I kept waiting for something more significant to happen as the novel moved through almost a 100 years. I found the fascination with a minor poet and the fact that every character, major or minor, new about the Poet, to be a bit beyond belief. Having read 2 books by Hollinghurst books, I would recommend "The Line of Beauty".
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Booker Prize (Longlist — 2011)
Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 2013)
Lambda Literary Award (Finalist — 2012)
National Book Critics Circle Award (Finalist — Fiction — 2011)
Publishing Triangle Awards (Finalist — Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction — 2012)
British Book Award (Winner — 2011)
CBC Bookie Awards (Nominee — 2012)
Spear's Book Award (Shortlist — Novel — 2012)
ALA Over the Rainbow Book List (Selection — Fiction — 2012)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

564 p.; 7.76 inches


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