Indeed, The Stranger’s Child is best read as a subtle meditation on memory and how, in combination with time and method, history is written and rewritten. More than Cecil’s personal legacy the novel considers the shaping of literary history; a mediocre poem embraced by a nation, its mythology created and slowly corrupted. Hollinghurst has always written about the nature of homosexuality, but although many of the male characters in The Stranger’s Child are homosexual this doesn’t drive the plot, instead Hollinghurst plays with the idea of homosexuality on the periphery of British life over the 20th Century – ever present, intertwined with all of society, but always just out of sight.
The writing is elegant but accessible, a great deal of effort clearly having been spent on the structure and composition of the novel. The leaps in both time and setting prove a little jarring at first, as new characters are presented without introduction and key moments in the lives of central characters left undescribed, but one quickly adapts to Hollinghurst’s uncondescending style. Indeed, for the discerning reader there are plenty of literary allusions within the text, although none are overstated. More than the structure, one finds the characters to be problematic; there is a hint of stereotype around some of the middle-upper class characters and, whether through the novel’s episodic nature or the personalities they are given, one finds it hard to empathise with any of the key characters. Polished as the prose is, it lacks the emotional intensity, the potency, that one expects, even from such a reserved work. However, Hollinghurst is keen to emphasise the cyclical nature of life and the lack of intensity may be a by-product of this, certainly no conclusions are provided, and the novel slips quietly away leaving, aptly, a sense of unfinished business.
In the past Hollinghurst has been criticised for failing to take an interest in his female characters, and becoming preoccupied with explicit sexual scenes: it would appear that many of these criticisms are addressed in The Stranger’s Child, with fewer and tamer sexual scenes, and female characters in more prominent roles. Not only that, but the novel feels warmer than his previous work, with no place for Hollinghurst’s own cutting observations. In some ways this detracts from the novel; one misses the arrogance and assertiveness that has been replaced by an, occasionally, impotent malaise. The concepts explored are interesting if not ground-breaking, and although The Stranger’s Child is far from incisive, it is worthy of deeper exploration.
Reviews of The Stranger's Child on Amazon (UK)
Reviews of The Stranger's Child on Amazon (US)
|Review: The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst|
The Line of Beauty (2004) provides a perspective on 1980s Britain through the eyes of a young Oxford graduate who is coming to terms with his latent homosexuality. The aptly named Nick Guest, son of a modest antiques dealer, is thrust... [Read More]
|Review: The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst|
The Swimming Pool Library (1988) depicts a homosexual sub-section of London. Set in 1983, the novel describes the bohemian lifestyle of the promiscuous Will Beckwith, a young man of aristocratic descent, who spends his days gorging on culture and young men, frequently picking up boys at the Corinthian club... [Read More]