Jamie's Reviews > The Stranger's Child

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst
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's review
Nov 20, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 2012-reading-goals, on-the-nook, read-in-2012, lgbt
Read from December 27, 2011 to January 10, 2012 — I own a copy

"The Line of Beauty" this ain't. But I don't actually think it sets out to be that novel, despite critics' willingness to hold Hollinghurst's last novel as the ultimate yardstick for judging this one (and contemporary gay fiction more generally). There are some resonances between them, particularly an obsession with gay history/historiography, but this is not a novel about struggling with one's sexual identity-and it's also not a novel about the seismic shift that occurred with the onset of the AIDS pandemic.

At the center of the novel (which is comprised of five narratives/five time periods) is Cecil Valance, a kind of Wilfred Owen, tragic-poet figure. Everyone wants to fuck Cecil, and I'll confess that he comes off as highly fuckable. If you don't sleep with him or want to, you want to make an icon of him. Part romance, part biography, part meta-narrative about literary criticism, the novel traverses time and genre easily largely through keeping Cecil as the fulcrum of each tale. I suppose I do see "Brideshead." I do see "Maurice." I do see "Atonement." But the first two have become unavoidable literary pillars for gay fiction, particularly for a certain period and certain class in British history. I think anyone can hear "Atonement" in a period drama that features a precocious, sexually awakening young girl.

There are echoes, then, in this novel, but Hollinghurst's novel ultimately feels more like a comment on those echoes and how one grapples with a history that implicates you but isn't your own. It's often tragic, frequently beautiful, and certainly a page-turning sort of read. He has that knack for being both literary and addictive. Docked a star, though, because the separation between the five narratives felt at times a bit too tidy, in such a way that it nearly felt like five short novels rather than one coherent one. If this is your first Hollinghurst go to "Line of Beauty" instead, but this is certainly worth your while if you've already enjoyed his work.

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