46. The Stranger’s Child, Alan Hollinghurst (2011)

After the huge impact of The Swimming Pool Library in the 80s, I have to admit that I struggled with Hollinghurst. I found a lot of his subsequent books chilly and impenetrable, and I really didn’t like The Line of Beauty at all. But The Stranger’s Child is a different matter altogether. It’s warm and engaging and it manages to sustain an engrossing narrative throughout some huge temporal jumps. What could have been a literary exercise ends up being a really moving meditation on ageing and memory and the ambiguous nature of art. All of which makes it sound as dull as ditchwater – and it’s anything but. A lot of people were sniffy about this book (‘Oh, it’s just a pastiche of Forster’ was one of my favourites) which I put down to jealousy. Obviously I’m a sucker for the period stuff, and anything that involves frustrated bank clerks poring over physique mags is going to work for me – but there’s so much more to The Stranger’s Child. For me it’s the outstanding novel of the last ten years.

 

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4 Comments

Filed under My top 100 novels

4 responses to “46. The Stranger’s Child, Alan Hollinghurst (2011)

  1. David Benedict

    Slightly amazed you didn’t like “The Line Of Beauty” which, like Henry James but readable, has astonishing moral weight. But yes, this is tremendous. It keeps any number of major ideas in play – the nature of biography, art vs the artist, reputation, deceit, but done with such a light touch it reads like a good old-fashioned family saga. An extraordinarily satisfying book.

  2. It’s the Henry Jamesishness of it I didn’t like. I can’t stand HJ. Put it down to enforced readings at university when he was held up as THE only novelist that mattered. I’ve tried since and still can’t do it. So there’s a crack in the golden bowl. Live with it!

  3. I agree, I think a good novelist should invite his readers in, not keep them at arms length. I too disliked his previous efforts and am reading this for a book club soon, so I was glad to see this review (although Forster’s work is not especially inviting…).
    Also while reading your review, I was glad I don’t know people who use the word pastiche in a casual sentance.

  4. I finished this book about 60 seconds ago. While reading it I got fed up with British upper classes, it seems like the lower classes would have a much more interesting story. But perhaps it was all about work and looking for food. While reading The Stranger’s Child I kept your list in mind and I wanted to drop the book and pick up one about British rooming houses like you recommend. To my surprise, part three became a book about British rooming houses, but he still went to a party with wealthy people.
    The plot follows a dead man and I was put off by the class system so I can’t say I ultimately enjoyed the book.

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