Susan Tunis's Reviews > The Stranger's Child

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst
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's review
Mar 22, 2012

it was amazing

Period drama meets social satire in Alan Hollinghurst’s capable hands

Alan Hollinghurst’s latest epic opens on a scene I found very reminiscent of Ian McEwan’s Atonement. It’s a wealthy British country house, and the family is looking forward to son, George, coming home for a visit with his school friend, Cecil. Over the course of a long weekend, Cecil is involved with greater or lesser romantic escapades with members of the family, and winds up writing a lengthy poem that immortalizes both the events of that weekend and eventually the man. That poem is what he will forever be remembered for, and in ways the writing of it alters the family for generations.

For the entire novel, told in five parts and covering most of the last century, springs from that opening section. The events of that weekend ripple forward through time in unexpected ways. The novel is written in an episodic fashion, so as each section opens, the reader must figure out when and where they are, and must look for familiar characters and connections to add to the whole.

It is no surprise that former Booker Prize-winner Hollinghurst writes beautifully, but not being familiar with his work, I was a little surprised by his talent for humor and satire. For this novel is definitely having fun with the British class system. I’m confident I’d have enjoyed it all the more if I was English, but I enjoyed it plenty as is. And while there’s a healthy dose of humor and that satirical edge, Hollinghurst sells his drama equally well. Characters are richly developed, and Hollinghurst has an expansive canvas on which to tell his tale. He believably depicts nearly a century’s worth of historic periods, and has clearly done his homework. All in all, The Stranger’s Child was a success on all counts.

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