The Stranger's Child
A NoveleBook - 2011
The Stranger's Child is Alan Hollinghurst's masterpiece, the book that cements his position as one of the finest novelists of our time. In its scope, intelligence and elegance.
Sixteen-year-old Daphne Sawle is reading Tennyson in a hammock in the garden of Two Acres, the family home in suburban London. Her brother George arrives to visit with his Cambridge friend Cecil Valance, a handsome, assured and sometimes outrageous young man with a burgeoning reputation as a poet. After a tantalizing and dramatic weekend Cecil writes a long poem in Daphne's autograph album as a parting gift. It is titled "Two Acres," and both Daphne and George (whose feelings for Cecil also go well beyond mere friendship) immediately see how important the poem is - but none of them can foresee the complex and lasting effects it will have on all their lives.
When the next section of the novel begins, everything has changed: Daphne is married to Cecil's brother Dudley Valance; George to a historian named Madeleine; and Cecil is dead, killed by a sniper in World War One. A Cabinet officer and man of letters named Sebastian Stokes is compiling an edition of Cecil's poems. He is especially curious about Cecil's personal (and passionate) letters and unpublished poems, papers that seem to have gone missing.
The book leaps forward to a party to celebrate Daphne's seventieth birthday. We meet Peter Rowe, a music teacher, and his boyfriend, Paul Bryant, a bank employee with a feeling for Cecil's poetry. Soon Paul is taking up an idea that Peter abandoned: to write a biography of Cecil Valance. It means making some startling discoveries about a past that the Valance family would prefer to keep in sepia and shadows.
The Stranger's Child is that rare thing, a historical novel whose characters, in their passions and betrayals, constantly surprise the reader, and will surely be read for generations to come.