The Stranger’s Child

Alan Hollinghurst, Author
Alan Hollinghurst. Knopf, $27.95 (464p) ISBN 978-0-307-27276-8
Reviewed on: 08/29/2011
Release date: 10/01/2011
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Hollinghurst, author of the Man Booker Prize–winning The Line of Beauty, published seven years ago, stakes his claim for Most Puckishly Bemused English Novelist with this rambunctious stepchild to the mannered satires of Henry Green, E.M. Forster, and especially Evelyn Waugh. Fancy young George Sawle returns from Cambridge in 1913 to his family estate of Two Acres in the company of the dashing poet Cecil Valance, secretly his lover. Cecil enjoys success and popularity wherever he goes, and George’s precocious sister, Daphne, falls under his spell. To her he gives a poem about Two Acres, a work whose reputation will outlive Cecil, for he is fated to perish in WWI. Hollinghurst then jumps ahead to Daphne’s marriage to Cecil’s brother Dudley and commences the series of generation-spanning indiscretions and revisionist biographies that complicate Cecil’s legacy: he is variously a rebel, a tedious war poet, and, possibly, the father of Daphne’s daughter. Time plays havoc with fashions, relationships, and sexual orientation; the joke is on the legions of memoirists, professors, and literary treasure hunters whose entanglements with eyewitnesses produce something too fickle and impermanent to be called legend. Hollinghurst’s novel, meanwhile, could hardly be called overserious, but nearly 100 years of bedroom comedy is a lot to keep up with, and the author struggles at times to maintain endless amusement over the course of the five installments that make up this book. But convolution is part of the point. A sweet tweaking of English literature’s foppish little cheeks by a distinctly 21st-century hand. Longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize. (Oct.)
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