Alan Hollinghurst - The Stranger’s Child (3 stars)

Alan Hollinghurst - The Stranger’s Child

Sprawling 1913 family epic leave reader underwhelmed


When it comes to keeping his fans waiting, Alan Hollinghurst has got it down to a very fine art. It’s seven itchy years since the London writer scooped the Booker Prize for The Line of Beauty and this resultant beefy doorstopper proves that he hasn’t been whiling away those many months in prevaricating fashion.

The Stranger’s Child is a sprawling family epic featuring the thoroughly well-off Valance and Sawle clans, kicking off in 1913 with a weekend’s jollities heightened by the appearance of talented young poet Cecil, whose attentions are fought over by best buddy, George, and his sister, Daphne. Fleeting romance and lifelong regrets are the lasting testaments of the weekend’s goings-on as we travel through (mainly with Daphne) the inter-war years, mid-sixties (which seem to be swinging elsewhere) and to contemporary times as the various puzzles are pieced together by inquisitive later generations.

Perhaps stung by the tabloid bluster about the gay romping in his award-winning 2004 novel, there is the merest fleeting of skin action in this work which is more about the legacy of writing. There are letters penned, unfinished or hidden while subjective memoirs and reviews leave their own scars. Certainly, Hollinghurst has a finger on the pulse of the awkward secrets and dark memories which keep families connected to one another, but the feeling you are left with on finishing The Stranger’s Child is similar to the emotions which rise during the closing credits of Stephen Poliakoff’s lesser-successful TV dramas. These are tales of a haunted privilege which hint constantly towards a devastating reveal, but whose drive falters and fizzles out, leaving you wholly underwhelmed.

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