Not only Alan Hollinghurst’s most ambitious novel to date, but also his funniest since The Spell . . . Hollinghurst is perhaps our most literary contemporary novelist, in the sense that his books are . . . playfully, but never merely flippantly, studded with allusions. . . . The principal theme of the workings of time and memory [is] brilliantly embodied in the book’s structure, with its bold narrative leaps forward . . . The novel’s long chronological reach (1913 to 2008) allows the sometimes melancholy but often comic workings of time to become apparent. . . . In a novel covering a large swathe of time, an entire era or society can be evoked in a phrase . . . Period indicators are always spot on . . . Although many of the scenes he describes are in themselves amusing, his great comic gift is displayed in the precise deployment of language as much as in the beadiness of his observation. Like Evelyn Waugh he creates comedy from the tension between the elegance of his prose and the often indecorous things he is describing, and so the reader is caught between amusement and exhilaration when someone with a terrible hangover staggers to the lavatory where he is ‘sick, in one great comprehensive paragraph.’ Hollinghurst’s pouncing on exactly the right, though often unexpected, word for his purposes is all the more effective for occurring in a prose of considerable poise. . . . In this populous story even the most minor character is brilliantly realized, and Hollinghurst’s nimble changes of narrative perspective frequently wrongfoot the reader, whose sympathies undergo a number of unexpected readjustments. Beautifully written, ambitious in its scope and structure, confident in its execution, The Stranger’s Child is a masterclass in the art of the novel.
Peter Parker, The Times Literary Supplement (UK)
Highly entertaining and, as always with Hollinghurst, the dialogue is immaculate and the characterization first class. . . . Every Alan Hollinghurst novel is a cause for celebration, and this spacious, elegant satire is no exception.
David Robson, Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Masterful . . . Sleek, seductive and a little sly . . . There is also a lot that is purely and simply very funny. . . . There is something symphonic about [the novel’s] wholeness. There is also something filmic in the book’s enveloping embrace . . . Brilliant.
Keith Miller, The Daily Telegraph (UK) (4-star review)
Bloody-hell-this-is-good . . . Punctuated by abrupt and jagged turns of fate, skillfully redolent of life lived forwards, this story is fabulously involving and rich. It’s also very funny, in a dry and forgiving way. The silky precision of its prose . . . is matched by the mimetic completeness of its fictional world. This is an exercise in realism of a dazzlingly high order: it really does seem to be observed rather than imagined. The touches of extraneous detail are unobtrusive, concrete and exact. . . . The Stranger’s Child is a knowingly literary performance: a descendent of E. M. Forster or Evelyn Waugh by way of A. S. Byatt and the Ian McEwan of Atonement. . . . The novel’s presiding tone [is] arch humor. That humor is central: softening the book’s melancholy with a wan and forgiving sense of the vanity of human wishes. . . . In the end, the central character in The Stranger’s Child is neither Cecil nor Daphne, but time itself, breaking the threaded dances and the diver’s brilliant bow. There’s a whiff of the Possession-style scholarly page-turner in the closing sections . . . but the larger movement of the story is towards entropy. More of the past is always going to be lost than recovered. Rather than use its scale to produce the weightless afflatus of a family saga, The Stranger’s Child captures as well as anything I’ve read the particular gravity of time passing, and the irrecoverable losses it brings with it. It is an extraordinary achievement.
Sam Leith, The Spectator (UK)
Sumptuously retelling a familiar narrative of English decline through a series of friendships and encounters which form a sort of daisy chain of erotic and literary influence, [The Stranger’s Child is] elegant . . . affecting, erudite [and written] with tenderness and sensuous immediacy. As an accounting with class and history, Hollinghurst’s new novel will be compared to Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day and Ian McEwan’s Atonement. . . .The novel deals with the short life and posthumous reputation of Cecil Valance, a poet whose lyrical outpourings are given huge poignancy by the carnage of the trenches. . . . Hollinghurst has a feel for the fragility of memory, and the brutality inherent in the modernist drive to ‘make it new.’ Victorianism, with its sentiment, clutter and decorum, has special importance in The Stranger's Child . . . It is the signal achievement of The Stranger’s Child to show that, despite the silence in which relationships like that of Cecil and George were shrouded, their influence has echoed on through the years, as an unconscious pattern for other friendships and love affairs. In the present day, when the immediacy of a young man reciting Tennyson has been replaced by a website with audio clips mouthed by an animated Tennyson avatar, this tradition persists, against the odds.
Hari Kunzru, The Observer (UK)
A running motif in this witty and ultimately very moving novel is that certain truths—like the gay relationships of that earlier time, perhaps all human desires—are unrecordable and, to some extent, unknowable. The past and the present form a kind of palimpsest that leaves neither wholly legible. The book raises many such ideas, but they sit lightly on the page and never dampen the vibrant pleasures of Hollinghurst’s prose or his sparkling dialogue. There are echoes of E. M. Forster, Evelyn Waugh, Elizabeth Bowen and others, but The Stranger’s Child is a Great English Novel in its own right, and a tantalizing read.
Tom Beer, Newsday
[Hollinghurst] is a writer who revels in the long form. This time he even seems to re-invent the form. The Stranger’s Child has an exceedingly clever structure; it’s essentially five big set pieces, separated by time and history, that take us from 1913 to the present. . . .[It] is both an up-to-date narrative and one of those old-fashioned family sagas with a gay twist . . . Hollinghurst brings to life with enormous skill séances, dinner parties, walks in the woods, children’s theatricals, memorial services, interviews, a weekend in a great house. . . . A tour de force.
Andrew Holleran, The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide
Intricate, witty, playful . . . Comedy of manners, investigation of class, changing political and social landscape—all the reliable pleasures that Hollinghurst’s fiction offers are here in their dense, detailed richness . . . It is woven with stupendous deftness, its internal assonances making a complex, comprehensive harmony. . . . Of all the impeccably weighted secrets and surprises in the book, [the conclusion] is the most unexpected and returns the book, in a graceful circle, to its beginnings, giving to it a magnificent coherence in its meditation on the slippages between lived life and its written or recollected versions.
Neel Mukherjee, The Times (London)
The success of The Line of Beauty meant that Alan Hollinghurst’s next book was surely going to be eagerly anticipated. But the seven-year wait for The Stranger’s Child and the steady unfurling of its ambition over the novel’s 435 pages has had another effect too. It has dawned on people that Hollinghurst, the gay novelist, might also be the best straight novelist that Britain has to offer—that is, the writer whose talents sit most comfortably within the contours of the form. . . . The Stranger’s Child stands comparison to Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections for the way that the sweep of the narrative, its simultaneous flicker of comedy and drama, is matched and sustained by the precision and the leisurely economy of its individual sentences . . . The Stranger’s Child spans almost a century. And here, too [as in his previous books] sex opens up the novel, though the thing unlocked is not the small, cloistered world of Edwardian privilege but of all English literary history. The book’s sections are linked by two houses that, in their different ways, stand witness to social decline: Corley Court, a Victorian pile, home of the aristocratic young poet Cecil Valance; and the more modest Two Acres family home of George Sawle, his friend, and lover, from Cambridge. With [this] novel Hollinghurst imaginatively insists that our literary tradition would be unrecognizably depleted without the submerged current of homosexuality. And that The Stranger’s Child itself is the culmination of not only Hollinghurst’s ambition but that secret literary tradition to which it is addressed. It is a claim that is hard to dispute.
Geoff Dyer, New York Magazine
[Alan Hollinghurst,] the author of The Line of Beauty (2004), writes like Henry James, but without the obfuscation; his gorgeous sentences home in on the delicate nuances of human relationships but don't sacrifice the larger social canvas along the way. In this novel, he follows a wealthy British family as its members negotiate the post-World War I landscape. Imagine a faster-paced and slyer Masterpiece Theatre production, with homoerotic interludes.
Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune
Erudite, stylish, very amusing . . . Hollinghurst’s characters are often plunked down on the edge on an era just as it slips into the past, partially aware that they are witnesses to a moment that is disappearing in front of them. . . . The Stranger’s Child concerns the brief life and long afterlife of glamorous poet Cecil Valance, a raffish young product of Cambridge. Cecil’s death in World War I catapults his reputation and canonizes the misty odes and patriotic sonnets he left behind. In five sections, each focusing on a different character decades removed from the Edwardian era in which the poet lived, and all narrated through Hollinghurst’s mordant voice, the novel follows Cecil’s literary reputation across the last century and into the present one, all the way up to 2008, when a used-book seller hunts for a likely lost trove of poems while fumbling with his text messages. . . . A novelist with a historian’s engrossment in the past and a critic’s sensitivity to taste and judgment, Hollinghurst is an aficionado of the English literary heritage [and] in The Stranger’s Child, that bookish fascination envelops every aspect of the novel. . . . Hollinghurst is a marvelous ventriloquist of the period stylings of Cecil and of his brother Dudley Valance . . . Seemingly everyone in The Stranger’s Child has written a book or a memoir or a [book of] popular history. And the most deftly turned of Hollinghurst’s set pieces in the novel occur in precisely those locales where the legacy of English letters is most batted about: in the cluttered offices of the TLS, where Hollinghurst himself worked for years as an editor, and at an academic conference on the literature of World War I at Oxford, where Cecil’s future biographer is cowed by the sight of Jon Stallworthy and Paul Fussell. . . . Part of the considerable pleasure in reading The Stranger’s Child is Hollinghurst’s ease in weaving all these literary strands across the ambitious structure of the book. Its span covers nearly a hundred bumpy years of literary history, during which the tapestry of ‘English letters’ becomes unraveled and rethreaded to generate unexpected patterns. . . .There is a poignancy and a humor that is far from conventional, and a sense of an ending that outlasts the comforts of closure.
Eric Banks, Bookforum
Hollinghurst, author of the Man Booker Prize–winning The Line of Beauty, stakes his claim for Most Puckishly Bemused English Novelist with this rambunctious stepchild to the satires of Henry Green, E.M. Forster, and especially Evelyn Waugh. . . . Time plays havoc with fashions, relationships, and sexual orientation; the joke is on the legions of memoirists, professors, and literary treasure hunters whose entanglements with eyewitnesses produce something too fickle and impermanent to be called legend. Hollinghurst’s novel could hardly be called overserious . . . A sweet tweaking of English literature’s foppish little cheeks by a distinctly 21st-century hand. Longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize.
An opulent epic that follows the variegated fortunes of two aristocratic families from 1913 to 2008. . . . Possibility and fumbling desire run through the narrative like a rippling electric current. . . . Mortality [and] mythology feed into an extravagant and playful riff on literature itself, rich with references to the novels of E. M. Forster, Evelyn Waugh and Hollinghurst’s beloved Henry James. . . . Like everything Hollinghurst writes, the story also has a keen sense of aesthetics and the history of taste.
Claire Allfree, Metro (UK)
When you read a great novel, you feel like your intelligence is being enhanced, that your imagination is being trained to be sharper. It’s like what Berenson said about art: it’s an enhancement of life. Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child hit me that way. . . . Reading The Stranger’s Child is like diving into sponge cake. It’s a delicious and sensuous experience. But there’s a high order of sustained intelligence at work that knows how to defer the ultimate pleasures of literature until just the right time. There’s a command of character and its expression. Conversations have a main current as well as eddies and undertows in the body language and the dialogue so that you feel as a reader that you’re drifting in several directions at once, all of them interesting. . . . [Hollinghurst is a] master of all-encompassing charm. . . . I don’t know what [he’s] like at a party, but I imagine that he owns the room. Because as a writer, he owns the room. . . . [The Stranger’s Child is] a great mystery story, creating the myth of a lost gay tradition in literature. But it’s also a novel that cherishes the perceived connections of the whole human family, gay or straight. . . . The glittering quest for our cherished literature, for what we hold and treasure and for what has slipped away from us and been lost, has never been told better than it is here.
Dennis Haritou, Three Guys One Book
From the UK:
Hollinghurst’s new novel is great. In the midst of The Stranger’s Child I felt the disconcerting sensation that I’d had while reading [his previous books]: that the author is someone who notices, senses and understands things about people that they don’t want anyone to see, that they make efforts to conceal, that they might not even be aware of themselves. It’s the opposite of X-ray vision; more like an instinctive and highly cultivated understanding that the smallest gesture, if viewed and articulated with sufficient precision, can convey a truth that is unique to a given individual and, simultaneously, freighted with universal significance. This ability has deepened with each book but in [The Strangers Child] he seems to have historicized it. Hollinghurst makes one believe absolutely in the inexhaustible vitality of the English novel. And he does this so comfortably (so Englishly?), within the established procedures of fiction, that it never occurs to one to use a word like genius.
Geoff Dyer, The Guardian (UK)
In The Stranger’s Child [Hollinghurst] weaves a number of stories around the idea of [Rupert] Brooke and his posthumous fortunes, detailing the lives caught up in the reputational arc of a Brooke-like poet called Cecil Valance between 1913 and 2008. . . . Hollinghurst writes with amused tenderness but he also puts both hands on opportunities for irony, arch humour and, intermittently, an un-Jamesian directness. . . .The Stranger’s Child has an intricate armature of doublings, foreshadowings, James-style withholdings, Proust-style ‘ways’ (‘the country way, and the suburban way’) and leitmotifs, one of them literally Wagnerian . . . The period details work well, the conversations unspool effortlessly, and there are many good jokes. . . . he’s very funny . . . In addition to providing an elegant ending, he makes the book into an elegant gesture: a critic-pleasing novel depicting critics and biographers as being essentially parasitic and, even when right, point-missingly or irrelevantly so.
Christopher Tayler, The London Review of Books
Wonderfully pleasing. Cecil Valance, an aristocratic young poet, is paying a visit to Two Acres, the home of his Cambridge friend George Sawle, and the young men steal away for a tryst. What this brief visit initiates is a double legacy, whose evolution Mr. Hollinghurst traces in episodes that span the 20th century. The public legacy centers on the poem Cecil writes in the autograph album of George's sister Daphne. Titled ‘Two Acres,’ it will become a patriotic classic during World War I, after Cecil is killed in battle and deified as so many real-life soldier-poets were. The private legacy, passed on through the decades in hints and secret deductions, is the story of Cecil’s love for George, which Mr. Hollinghurst presents as a model and emblem of the gay counter-tradition in English literature. For the novelist, the story of Cecil Valance allows a fresh approach to a venerable theme—the contingency of literary reputation, the dubious nature of biography. . . . Mr. Hollinghurst cleverly puts the reader in the position of the biographers who will seek the truth about Cecil. We, too, are left to deduce a man from a few brief observations and to reflect on the sheer randomness of what posterity preserves. . . . Hollinghurst dramatizes the contingency of memory and the unreliability of biography with great skill—honed by his own years working as an editor at the Times Literary Supplement. . . . What really distinguishes The Stranger’s Child is its brilliant narrative economy. Each of its five sections covers just a few days in the life of the characters, always centered on a party—gin-soaked flappers in the 1920s, teenagers doing the twist in the 1960s, middle-aged literati at a memorial service in 2008. Yet in these brief glimpses, Mr. Hollinghurst conveys the vast changes in England and the world that took place over the generations. We witness the fall of the aristocracy and the rise of the middle class, the repurposing of stately homes, the arrival of American air bases, finally even the transformation of literary life by the Internet. And Mr. Hollinghurst does all this while preserving a truly Jamesian fineness of perception, his own consciousness darting around those of his characters, recording every desire and hesitation and misunderstanding. It is this novelistic intelligence that makes The Stranger's Child such a pleasure to read, and Mr. Hollinghurst one of the best novelists at work today.
Adam Kirsch, The Wall Street Journal
Gloriously rendered . . . The newest book from Booker winner Hollinghurst opens with sunshine, and ends in ashes. He shows us summertime, curling smoke, orgasms, things that are weightless and momentary, and then traces their silent impressions through time. This novel is concerned with how our artefacts of memory are pressured by insubstantial transformative forces such as desire and weather, fashion and commerce. While the backdrop is made up of weighty items, from the battlegrounds of WWI to large country houses, the public school system, and the citadel of the literary canon, they’re all shown to be susceptible to these momentary flickers of impulse and heat, as are these characters that live the breadth of the 20th century. . . . What is interesting about all the couplings in The Stranger’s Child is that a quick tumble in the hedgerow develops its own type of immortality. Like a much-anthologised poem . . .the fumbled couplings of the characters reveal themselves to be the turning points of their secret memories and public lives. . . . Poignant. . . beautifully written.
Margaret Howie, Bookslut
At once classically literary and delightfully, subversively modern . . . The Stranger's Child is easily [Hollinghurst’s] most subtle and most ambitious novel. Hollinghurst is a master observer of human and social behavior. As told in five sections spanning nearly a century, The Stranger's Child uses the mode to startling, marvelous effect, as his characters grow old and perish while the fractured, uncertain memories of each remain—for future inhabitants to debate and unearth . . . Fans of Hollinghurst know him for his flawless phrasing, his wickedly funny depictions of class and society, and his distinctive, enduring sensuality, all of which continue here, but in telling the story of a young poet's legacy over the course of a century, Hollinghurst displays an exciting shift from earlier work. . . . Unlike other novels that make use of lengthy passages of time and revolve around long-deceased characters, The Stranger's Child is not as absorbed with nostalgia. It's a clear-eyed look at how strange and perplexing memory is, and how vague and uncertain our relationships, sexual and otherwise, can be. It's a thrilling, enchanting work of art, and the latest in what we can only hope will be a very long career.
Adam Eaglin, The San Francisco Chronicle
Magnificent . . . insightful. Hollinghurst explores how a living, breathing existence can become a biographical subject riddled with omissions and distortions. . . . Hollinghurst divides the novel into five novella-length sections, in each of [which] he demonstrates his knack for conjuring the moments between events, the seeming down time in which the ramifications of turning points in life sort themselves out. His immersion in each period is fluid and free of false notes, collectively fusing into a single symphonic epic. . . . [a] beautifully written, brilliantly observed and masterfully orchestrated novel.
Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times
Gorgeous . . . Brilliant in its subtle structure, The Stranger’s Child is Hollinghurst’s most ambitious novel. Mandatory reading: a beautifully written, exceptionally intelligent daisy chain of ideas.
Band of Thebes
Eagerly awaited . . . Charming . . . Perfect . . . Hollinghurst writes so carefully and subversively, often with one eyebrow raised in sardonic amusement as he satirizes the excesses of his mostly high-born protagonists . . . elegant people partying on the edge of the abyss . . . [He] is interested in what it means to love someone or something that is perpetually unattainable . . . The Stranger’s Child is broader in scope and more generous in outlook than anything [he] has written before, as well as being structurally his most ambitious work and his most restrained sexually. What remains absolutely characteristic is the gracefulness of his sentences, scrupulously scene-shaping and mood-patterning.
Jason Cowley, Financial Times
The questions of who wants to keep the past buried and who will finally tell the truth and risk being vilified are essential to Hollinghurst’s remarkably textured tale of historical misconceptions. . . . Writing with a surgeon’s precision, Hollinghurst stages a splendid satire on the English social strata of the 20th century at a time when their formal structure was inevitably fraying around the edges. . . . This gorgeous novel is Hollinghurst’s pièce de résistance, grandly capturing the beauty, despair, and desire of the British upper class, the fragile mess of lives in the footnotes. Showcasing academic pages dog-eared by the march of time, The Stranger’s Child displays the defeated dreams of two families as much as it demonstrates the enduring legacy of a poet’s life and his work.
Michael Leonard, Curled Up With a Good Book
A sly and ravishing masterpiece. . . . The novel skips with indecent ease through 100 years of British political and literary history, concealing its mighty ambition in charm and louche wit. It's a devastating history of gay love, erasure and resilience. It's also a ripping yarn, a simple love (or rather, lust—Hollinghurst's characters are too Wildean for love) story as literary whodunit: Brideshead Revisited crossed with Possession. . . . Behind the bloom of Hollinghurst's prose, another project quietly unfurls. As much as The Stranger's Child is about England and Englishness, about war, about the impulse toward biography, it's profoundly and unmistakably a secret literary history. It's the tapestry of British literature turned around to reveal its seams, to reveal that the history of the British novel has been the history of gay people in Britain. It's Oscar Wilde and A.E. Housman, E.M. Forster and Virginia Woolf and the entire Bloomsbury set, a history—as Cecil's is—of invisibility, secrecy and scandal, censure and frenetic posthumous outing. This précis might be stuffy; the book never is. The Stranger's Child restores gay life and love to the vibrant center of the British novel without a hint of solemnity or righteousness, only supple prose and a sodden, fun bunch of obviously, gloriously gay characters. Seldom has literary restitution proved so pleasurable.
Parul Sehgal, Cleveland Plain Dealer
Lives tangle and untangle in a literate, literary mystery at the heart of World War I by Man Booker Prize winner Hollinghurst . . . How do we know the truth about anyone’s life? [This] carefully written, philosophically charged novel invites us to consider that question.
With the prewar ambiance of Atonement, the manor-house mystique of Gosford Park, and the palpable sexual tension of Hollinghurst’s own The Line of Beauty, this generously paced, thoroughly satisfying novel will gladden the hearts of Anglophile readers.
Barbara Love, Library Journal
The buzz is running hot for [Hollinghurst’s] new novel, which sprawls across a century of life in England . . . [and] follows the evolution of Cecil’s posthumous literary reputation, using it to reveal the complex love story that unfurled at the beginning.
Lev Grossman, Time Magazine
“[Hollinghurst] preserv[es] a truly Jamesian
fineness of perception, his own consciousness darting around those of his
characters, recording every desire and hesitation and misunderstanding. It is
this novelistic intelligence that makes The
Stranger’s Child such a pleasure to read, and Mr. Hollinghurst one of the
best novelists at work today.”
Wall Street Journal
Stranger’s Child could hardly be better…[Hollinghurst] writes with the
relaxed elegance and unobtrusive charm of a Cary Grant. Part social history,
part social comedy, and wholly absorbing, The
Stranger’s Child does everything a novel should do and makes it look easy.”
“With ambition and scope Hollinghurst uses a
‘love in wartime’ narrative to explore the deep and wildly complicated
connections between memory and what passes for history.”
“A running motif in this witty and ultimately
very moving novel is that certain truths—like the gay relationships of that
earlier time, perhaps all human desires—are unrecordable and, to some extent,
unknowable. The past and the present form a kind of palimpsest that leaves
neither wholly legible. The book raises many such ideas, but they sit lightly
on the page and never dampen the vibrant pleasures of Hollinghurst’s prose or
his sparkling dialogue. There are echoes of E. M. Forster, Evelyn Waugh,
Elizabeth Bowen, and others, but The
Stranger’s Child is a Great English Novel in its own right, and a
“Hollinghurst’s new novel is great…The author is
someone who notices, senses, and understands things about people that they
don’t want anyone to see, that they make efforts to conceal, that they might
not even be aware of themselves. It’s the opposite of X-ray vision; more like
an instinctive and highly cultivated understanding that the smallest gesture,
if viewed and articulated with sufficient precision, can convey a truth that is
unique to a given individual and, simultaneously, freighted with universal
significance…Hollinghurst makes one believe absolutely in the inexhaustible
vitality of the English novel. And he does this so comfortably (so Englishly?),
within the established procedures of fiction, that it never occurs to one to
use a word like genius.”
“Highly entertaining and, as always with
Hollinghurst, the dialogue is immaculate and the characterization first class…Every
Alan Hollinghurst novel is a cause for celebration, and this spacious, elegant
satire is no exception.”
Sunday Telegraph (London)
“Masterful…Few novels so skillfully revealed
what’s really said behind polite facades, and The Stranger’s Child displays that talent on a broader canvas…The
brilliance of The Stranger’s Child is
in how it reveals the ways bad blood and secrets muck with history. When
everybody strains to say the appropriate thing, the facts suffer. That theme is
perfectly suited for Hollinghurst, who can reveal a host of hidden messages in
the simplest utterance (or pursed lips)…Psychologically penetrating…Brilliant.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Perfect…Hollinghurst writes so carefully and
subversively, often with one eyebrow raised in sardonic amusement as he
satirizes the excesses of his mostly high-born protagonists.”
Hollinghurst, with his perfect pitch for such evaluations, has cast [poet Cecil] Valance as one of literary history’s natural marginalia. Here is a Rupert Brooke-alike with a poetic talent as nostalgic and overblown as the turreted Victorian pile he stands to inherit, which would look rather small if it ever came detached from his personal charms. . . . [The Stranger’s Child’s] subject—of memory and memorial, and the fates of the keepers of the flame—has never have been done as amusingly. . . . Moreover, Hollinghurst’s genius for literary pastiche is so developed that his invented productions—Cecil’s poems, Dudley and Daphne’s memoirs—aren’t just note-perfect exercises in wit and accidental self-exposure, they’re actually quite accomplished on their own terms. I feel this is difficult and generous; and that this forgiveness, this capacity for tenderness, is the greatest of Hollinghurst’s many novelistic gifts. We marvel at the imaginative sympathy that makes his characters inhabit the moment.
Nicola Shulman, Evening Standard (UK)
Daring . . . fresh and vital. Hollinghurst’s fine new book [is] the closest thing he has written to an old-fashioned chronicle novel. Underpinned with a range of styles that run from Iris Murdoch to William Trevor and back to [E.M.] Forster, the novel is divided into five parts that play out over five different decades. Its characters are almost all ensnared by a figure who dies early in the book: magnetic young Cecil Vance, a kind of ‘upper-class Rupert Brooke,’ moderately gifted but probably ‘second-rate.’ Killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, he leaves behind a poem celebrating the verdant landscapes and snug domestic pleasures Britons want to believe they’re fighting for. Hollinghurst performs the feat of making [Cecil] more three-dimensional than Brooke managed to be in life, [with] an aggressive intensity, a slightly poisonous allure that keeps a reader [going] through the literary afterlife constructed for him. . . . The dominant figure of the book’s second half is born long after the poet’s death. Paul Bryant first appears as a sympathetic, striving, literary-minded young man, but his emerging capacities for ingratiation and chicanery gain him eventual success of a biography that outs Cecil, and makes Bryant’s name. Hollinghurst’s evolving portrait of this publishing scoundrel—from a callow fellow we first root for to a boorish showoff with a comb-over—is an even stronger, more extended achievement than his creation of Cecil. From era to era, Hollinghurst remains wonderfully precise. The overall success is remarkable. The texture of the writing feels steadily satisfying . . . The novel has plenty of secrets to spill before it’s finished. Daphne credibly ages into a figure out of Muriel Spark, tattered and ancient and not quite able to keep straight the various biographers still in pursuit of a main whose affections and importance she needed to exaggerate. Among all Hollinghurst’s sharply drawn characters, she best illustrates the biographical truth that sources can have a command equal to subjects.
Thomas Mallon, The New York Times Book Review
Engrossing . . . This epic novel, seven years in the making, bears the stamp of posterity: a book that will feature in school syllabi and ‘top fives’ for decades to come. Spanning a century, it opens in 1913 on a summer’s evening brimming with romantic promise. . . . Well worth the wait, it’s a treasure of a novel you'll read more and more slowly for fear of it ending.
Kate Green, Country Life (UK)
“Erudite, stylish, very amusing…There is a
poignancy and a humor that is far from conventional, and a sense of an ending
that outlasts the comforts of closure.”
“Magnificent…insightful. Hollinghurst explores
how a living, breathing existence can become a biographical subject riddled with
omissions and distortions…Hollinghurst divides the novel into five
novella-length sections, in each of [which] he demonstrates his knack for
conjuring the moments between events, the seeming down time in which the
ramifications of turning points in life sort themselves out. His immersion in
each period is fluid and free of false notes, collectively fusing into a single
symphonic epic…[A] beautifully written, brilliantly observed, and masterfully
“With the prewar ambiance of Atonement, the manor-house mystique of Gosford Park, and the palpable sexual
tension of Hollinghurst’s own The Line of
Beauty, this generously paced, thoroughly satisfying novel will gladden the
hearts of Anglophile readers.”
“Delightful…In Hollinghurst’s eagerly awaited
new novel we see that if history is written by the winners, biography belongs
to the survivors…Tremendously readable and engrossing.”
Daily Mail (London)
“At once classically literary and delightfully,
subversively modern…The Stranger’s Child
is easily [Hollinghurst’s] most subtle and most ambitious novel. Hollinghurst
is a master observer of human and social behavior. As told in five sections
spanning nearly a century, The Stranger's Child uses the mode to startling,
marvelous effect, as his characters grow old and perish while the fractured,
uncertain memories of each remain—for future inhabitants to debate and unearth.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Lives tangle and untangle in a literate,
literary mystery at the heart of World War I by Man Booker Prize winner
Hollinghurst…How do we know the truth about anyone’s life? [This] carefully
written, philosophically charged novel invites us to consider that question.”
“[Hollinghurst] writes like Henry James, but
without the obfuscation; his gorgeous sentences home in on the delicate nuances
of human relationships but don’t sacrifice the larger social canvas along the
“Daring…Hollinghurst’s fine new book, The Stranger’s Child—the closest thing
he has written to an old-fashioned chronicle novel—contains a whole hidden
literary curriculum, out of which he has fashioned something fresh and vital.”
New York Times Book Review
The Booker Prize-winning author’s new novel covers a century and traces a love triangle torn from the pages of Brideshead Revisited , though at least one side of the triangle is addressed more directly than Waugh did in his classic tale. With ambition and scope Hollinghurst uses a ‘love in wartime’ narrative to explore the deep and wildly complicated connections between memory and what passes for history.
Publishers Weekly Top 100
The high road of modernism has proved unmarked, [but] few see their way so clearly and with such a sure sense of direction as Alan Hollinghurst, whose new novel might be one of the books that Forster did not dare to write in those frightened and fallow years between the publication of A Passage to India and his death in 1970. . . . Hollinghurst, among other things a brilliant impersonator, gives us early on a taste of Cecil's verse . . . the kind of thing the Georgians, and the Edwardians, loved. Hollinghurst has caught the tone and the sentiment brilliantly. As this novel attests at every level, in the matter of English usage, manners, and mores its author is gifted with perfect pitch. Cecil Valance, with his truculent gaiety and his big hands, is a wonderful creation, the perfect type of upper-class aesthete of the time: self-assured and overbearing—a bully, mocking, and entirely in thrall to himself and his distinctly modest talent. . . . Hollinghurst is a master storyteller, and his book is thrilling in the way that the best Victorian novels are, so that one finds oneself galloping somewhat shamefacedly through the pages in order to discover what happens next. The writing is superb—I can think of no other novelist of the present day, and precious few of the past, who could catch human beings going about the ordinary business of living with the loving exactitude on display here. Two or three times on every page the reader will give a cry of recognition and delight as yet another nail is struck ringingly on the head. Even Forster, with his eye for detail, could not connect with such accuracy and panache. . . . Dazzlingly atmospheric . . . fantastically intricate windings of a plot, with all manner of excursions along the way—a sequestered cache of letters, questions of doubtful paternity, clandestine affairs—in other words, all the twists and turns that human relations will insist on making. For the daring of its setting out, and for the consistent flash and fire of the writing, The Stranger's Child is to be cherished.
John Banville, The New Republic
A sweeping multi-generational family saga . . . beautifully written. The Stranger’s Child has been compared to the work of Evelyn Waugh, E. M. Forster, and, as with Hollinghurst’s previous novels, Henry James, as well as that of contemporaries like Ian McEwan (for Atonement, which, on the surface, has many similarities) and Kazuo Ishiguro (for The Remains of the Day). But Hollinghurst brings a precise elegance to the genre, building upon the novels that came before it. This was the first novel in a long while that pulled me in wholeheartedly. We live in a time when things struggle to stick: competing influences, recommendations, and links, bombarding us and casting aside one new thing for the next. . . . It seems difficult to imagine that we wouldn’t take all of these characters with us through our lives in turn.
Elizabeth Minkel, The Millions
Masterful . . . Few novels so skillfully revealed what's really said behind polite facades, and The Stranger's Child displays that talent on a broader canvas. . . . Hollinghurst is a superior novelist of manners, and the brilliance of The Stranger's Child is in how it reveals the ways bad blood and secrets muck with history. When everybody strains to say the appropriate thing, the facts suffer. That theme is perfectly suited for Hollinghurst, who can reveal a host of hidden messages in the simplest utterance (or pursed lips). . . . Psychologically penetrating. . . . brilliant.
Mark Athitakis, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child could hardly be better, and it’s a mystery to me—and to many others—why it didn’t make this year’s recent shortlist for the Man Booker Prize. Perhaps quiet perfection is out of fashion in our noisy era. The Stranger’s Child opens in the golden sunshine just before World War I [and] in this initial section of a book rich in facets and characters, Hollinghurst effortlessly channels the tone of E.M. Forster’s early novels. The dinner-table banter alludes to Tennyson and Lytton Strachey, Wagner’s operas and the Cambridge secret society known as the Apostles, while beneath the decorous surface of the conversation run myriad erotic tensions. A distinctively Edwardian high-spiritedness abounds. Hollinghurst effortlessly juggles several points of view (including a 6-year-old’s), slowly revealing people’s true characters while keeping the reader guessing about the erotic intentions of various guests: Who is having an affair with whom? I’ve deliberately kept Hollinghurst’s revelations inviolate and only hinted at his range, his ear for dialogue and his almost-Tolstoyan clarity about time’s ravages and surprises. Most novelists tend to be slightly show-offy, in one way or another. But Hollinghurst doesn’t need to be a prose Johnny Depp. Instead, he writes with the relaxed elegance and unobtrusive charm of a Cary Grant. Part social history, part social comedy and wholly absorbing, The Stranger’s Child does everything a novel should do and makes it look easy.
Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
The publishing event of the year . . . A substantial novel spanning the years 1913 to 2008, with decades-long leaps—it covers a vast amount of territory. It’s an alternative literary history of England in the 20th century. It’s about the traumatic effects of two world wars. It’s about aesthetic failure and moral failure, and the ways the two are linked. It’s about each generation’s desire to over throw the tyranny of taste handed down to it. It’s about rises and plunges in literary reputations. It’s about the changing fortunes of the aristocracy and the haute bourgeoisie, from Bloomsbury to now. It’s about transformations in sexual mores. It’s an anti-nostalgic, cold-eyed portrait of overly romanticised periods in the recent English past. . . . Most compellingly, it’s about the desire to both hide and to uncover past events, about the limitations of literary biography and the impossibility of an afterlife in which one’s character—and even one’s activities—are accurately remembered and reported. . . . Hollinghurst conjure[s] each period in the style of its time, without resorting to pastiche. The Stranger’s Child is a comedy of manners, exuberantly funny, as well as a literary mystery, filled with elegant and erudite tips of the author’s hat to other writers—not just Tennyson, [Rupert] Brooke, but E.M. Forster, Evelyn Waugh, Aldous Huxley and many more. And each part is sealed with a kiss.
Alex Bilmes, Esquire (UK)
Brilliantly written, intricate and wide-reaching . . . An almost century-long cavalcade of changing social, sexual and cultural attitudes, exhibited in sensuously imagined scenes and scrutinized with ironic wit . . . Marvelously acute in its attention to idioms and idiosyncrasies, tone and body language, psychological and emotional nuances, the book gives intensely credible life to its swarm of characters . . . Masterly in its narrative sweep, richly textured prose and imaginative flair and depth, this novel about an increasingly threadbare literary reputation enormously enhances Hollinghurst’s own. With The Stranger’s Child, an already remarkable talent unfurls into something spectacular.
Peter Kemp, The Sunday Times (London)
Intelligence, perceptiveness, skill and sensibility . . . [this is] a complex, stylish comedy of class, politics, art and sexuality . . . The Stranger’s Child feels like the kind of novel that [E. M.] Forster might have written . . . An impeccable, ironic, profoundly enjoyable plot structure, with ‘secrets nested inside each other,’ The Stranger's Child could be usefully compared with A. S. Byatt’s Possession in its account of the way [the poet] Cecil [Valance] is mythologized by memory, misunderstandings and lies . . . It is Corley Court, the ‘violently Victorian’ ancestral home, which is at the heart of the novel. Like Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Darlington Hall and Sarah Waters’s Hundreds Hall, the house is both the setting and the magnifying glass under which the characters’ obsessions and frailties are to be exposed. . . . The narrative [is] largely carried by dialogue, much of it so freighted with irony as to be a delight in itself. Musical performances reveal character (another Forsterian hallmark), but the novel’s chief pleasure is itself akin to music: characters and details concerning life and love move in and out of focus to reveal unexpected discords and harmonies. . . . Probably the best novel this year so far . . . Gorgeous.
Amanda Craig, The Independent on Sunday
Delightful . . . In Hollinghurst’s eagerly awaited new novel we see that if history is written by the winners, biography belongs to the survivors. . . . Tremendously readable and engrossing.
John Harding, Daily Mail (UK)
If this wonderfully well-made and witty novel doesn’t win the Man Booker Prize, there is no justice in the world. . . . This is Brideshead Revisited in reverse. . . . Hollinghurst evokes the world of [Rupert] Brooke and of the Bloomsbury set. And he does so through the depiction of the sort of people who have written about that world—Michael Holroyd, the biographer of Lytton Strachey and George Bernard Shaw, comes to mind. This evocation is refreshingly ironic, even satirical, as is the comic nailing-down of what it's like to be a book reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement (of which Hollinghurst was once deputy editor). . . . The real villain is the passing of time. . . Constantly provocative, intricately plotted, slyly hilarious—in short, a triumph of the storyteller's art.
Brian Lynch, Irish Independent
Captivating . . . Flawlessly executed . . . Elegant, seductive and extremely enjoyable to read, and peppered with astute, apparently casual noticings . . . With his balance of surface glitter and steely precision, irony and deep seriousness, Hollinghurst is usually seen as an heir to Henry James. But he must also have had a passionate infatuation with Brideshead Revisited. . . . Hollinghurst has a strong, perhaps unassailable claim to be the best English novelist working today. He offers surely the best available example of novelistic ambition squared with the highest aesthetic standards. Where so many fiction writers seem stylish but austere, or full of life but messy, Hollinghurst has his cake and eats it. His novels cover high life and low life, culture and instinct, jokes and opera, with equal confidence. He can follow the consciousness of an individual in amazing detail, as well as subtly dramatizing the wider social and historical currents . . . His best books are beautiful at the level of the sentence and impressive at the levels of character, incident and plot; they manage to be nearly perfect and great fun at the same time. . . . The Stranger’s Child will no doubt be one of the best novels published this year. . . . Stunning.
Theo Tait, Book of the Week, The Guardian (UK)
Expansive and extensive . . . Inspired . . . Playful . . . A remarkable, unmissable achievement, written with the calm authority of an author who could turn his literary gifts to just about anything. . . . One leaves the novel with a sense of the truly extraordinary. . . . While The Stranger’s Child tells a very particular story—of the life and legacy of a war-slain poet—it simultaneously maps the thousands of changes to befall England, Englishness and English subjects across the past hundred years. . . . [It] positively teems with droll, well-observed accounts of both childhood and adolescence . . .Throughout The Stranger’s Child we are given the thrilling impenetrability and imprecision of lives as they are truly experienced. . . . Impossible as it is to circumnavigate its myriad achievements in a brief review, The Stranger’s Child is stunningly easy to commend. It is a rare thing to read a novel buoyed up by the certainty that it will stand among the year’s best, but rarer still to become confident of its value in decades to come (notwithstanding the cautionary example of [poet] Cecil [Valance]’s ‘pretty phrases, which Hollinghurst—first published as a poet—evidently enjoyed concocting). I would compare the novel to Middlemarch, for its precision, pathos (a less expected quality, perhaps) and perfect phrasing, were Eliot not so underappreciated as a comic writer today.
Richard Canning, The Independent (UK)
The range of eras and voices affords Hollinghurst ample opportunity to display an impressive mastery of prose style, and his portrait of Daphne—who begins as a doe-eyed young innocent only to age into a cantankerous old bully—is unforgettable.
Time Out (London)
One of our sharpest and most enjoyable contemporary novelists . . . Exhilarating deftness . . . The Stranger’s Child deals with profound themes of memory, reputation and the passing of time, but always with a sense of comedy, and with the linked sense that comedy and tragedy are always intertwined . . . Quite brilliant . . . Hollinghurst manages the concertina effect with extraordinary assurance, and at various key points his novel has an almost mystical ability to see time past and time present merging into one . . . The Stranger’s Child is brilliantly inventive in the way it delivers social comedy powered by sexual passion . . . its ingenuity cannot be doubted . . . The Stranger’s Child has a wonderfully calm assurance about it; an earned sense of self-confidence rare in modern literature. Sir Cecil Valance’s reputation may dwindle with time, but Alan Hollinghurst’s will surely endure.
Craig Brown, “Book of the Week” Mail on Sunday (UK) (5-star review)
A rollicking ride with biting wit and observant prose. Bring it on.
Country & Town House magazine (UK)
Portraying two families and spanning the 20th century, it is ambitious, epic and satisfying. If you loved Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, you’ll devour this.
The Stranger’s Child is something of a dichotomy: epic in scope, but minute in its details. . . . To say it is eagerly awaited is like saying JK Rowling is a tad popular. . . . The Stranger’s Child does not disappoint. A study on fame and the passing of time, it is as compulsive as anything [Hollinghurst has] written. It begins with a weekend at the Sawles’ family home in 1913, and the arrival of a poet named Cecil Valance who writes a poem that becomes lauded after Winston Churchill quotes from it. Over the following decades, a variety of journalists and biographers try to piece together what happened that weekend to inspire such a book. . . . Buy it, then relish and bathe in every word. [This] novel warrant[s] obsessive appreciation of every line
James Mullinger, GQ (UK)