September 03, 2011

The Stranger's Child - Alan Hollinghurst

I have not read any of Hollinghurst’s work before so I came to The Stranger’s Child as a complete novice to his writing.

The Stranger’s Child has been long listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize and already is quite a favourite to take out the prize with Hollinghurst’s previous best seller The Line of Beauty already taking out that award.
For me this book had the advantage of primarily being set in England in the period just before and just after WW1 – a favourite area of reading history for me. It also had plenty of descriptions of gorgeous English countryside homes and manors, costumes and habits so I was pretty much satisfied with the inclusion of those aspects! The story hinges on strong characterisation. I can honestly say that I didn’t really like or warm to any of the characters in the book – but I loved reading about them all. One of the main characters, although he remains physically distant or removed for most of the book, is Cecil Valance, a vivacious society man of the time with a talent for writing poetry and making people, both male and female, fall hopelessly in love with him. As a young man Cecil is rather full of himself – we don’t really get the chance to see how this trait will develop or change into the future which means that Cecil’s character is forever set by the memories of his friends and family. This is shown throughout the book by introducing several characters who are intent on writing a history or biography of Cecil and telling their own truths in the process.
The book is structured and told around specific times in the history of the characters and this means that the author jumps many years between each section of the narrative. I didn’t feel lost however as I felt each section was detailed enough to allow me to work out what had taken place in the intervening years that are not actually written about.
I really enjoyed reading this book although at the end of it I am left with the feeling that I haven’t really “got it”. The message I have taken away from my reading is one of the different types of truths that can exist simultaneously – there is no one right memory in existence – and how this fact can impact on different people. Also, the power of memory and how it can be constructed or deconstructed according to the needs or wants of the person remembering. For me this book was about the characters, the story itself was incidental and was more a tool for allowing the characters to come to light.

20 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

I've just started this one and am enjoying it so far. I hope I end up liking it as much as you did.

Frances said...

Loved The Line of Beauty, and really looking forward to this one as well. His descriptive writing is so evocative, gorgeous as you note here. And I am sure you "got this" just fine. :) I think Hollinghurst is an author that requires a few days post-read to digest.

Karen K. said...

I've never read any Hollinghurst either, but I love that period -- I've been watching Upstairs Downstairs all summer. I always find it so interesting when an author can create characters I dislike, yet the book is still wonderful -- I think that's the sign of a great writer if you keep reading.

gudrunstights said...

I like a well-plotted novel, but character studies are a fondness of mine. I also love the time period this takes place in - I already have it on hold at the library and now can't wait for it to come in!

Audra said...

Ooooh, this sounds very good! I've heard of Hollinghurt but never read anything of his -- I ought to give him a try.

Karen said...

Hi Jackie - I really hope you like it too - I will be interested to hear what you think of it...

Hi Frances - I will have to move on to The Line of Beauty now...

Hi Karen - I still have never watched Upstairs Downstairs - but I am sure I would love it!

Hi gudrunstights - I would have to say that character comes before plot for me. I have always said I could read a book set in one scene as long as I was interested in the characters!

Hi Audra - I would definitely recommend it!

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