Tony Mac's Reviews > The Stranger's Child

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst
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's review
Apr 12, 2016

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This epic, minutely detailed study of how myth is originated, perpetuated, embellished and eventually professionalised is quietly ironic and beautifully controlled, though the reader will need a lot of patience.

The resemblance and tribute to elegiac books like Brideshead Revisited is pretty obvious but what struck me most was the similarity to another recent and much acclaimed book, The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes. Intriguing, as both books are stylistically the polar opposite of each other: Hollinghurst's is long, leisurely and somewhat over-inflated while Barnes' is short, spare and perfectly pitched.

Both concern long ago events that in themselves are entirely unremarkable but which, through outcome and circumstance, resonate with protagonists and subsequent generations. Both books are essentially about the uncertainty and shifting nature of knowledge, memory and perceptions and how they can be flattered and tinkered with to suit individual needs. Hollinghurst's goes a bit further - as his book also deals on a certain level with celebrity - by showing how the events and their shifting portrayal can then become a professional battleground for future generations of writers and academics. This is how legends, rather than facts, are born I suppose.

Much as I enjoyed this book I also found it something of a struggle at times. By necessity, in the early sections inparticular, nothing much happens. We simply see a group of privileged and not especially likeable people, one of whom is unwittingly about to become a figure of romantic myth, go about their everyday business and conduct mundane chatter. I get the point of it but it's still pretty tedious. However I found the book better paced and funnier the longer it went on. I particularly liked the fun Hollinghurst had with the fact that during the social occasions that make up most of the characters minor dramas they are so drunk their memory is compromised right from the start. This leads to many comedic moments with blundering biographer Paul Bryant and his elderly, unwilling subjects later in the book.

One anomily did strike me about Hollinghurst's writing style, elegant though it undoubtedly is. I found the books many subtleties, subtexts and unspoken tensions slightly undermined by his insistence on explaining the meaning of every inflection, gesture and look his characters give. It's often amusing but sometimes less is more. You could say that about the whole book.

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04/12 marked as: read

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