This is my review of The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst.
Hollinghurst often reminds me of E.M.Forster with his nostalgia for the early C20 and his focus on the minute details of people's thoughts, observations of one another and interrelationships, all presented in well-crafted prose (apart from the odd clunky phrase like "she said carryingly").
Charismatic, arrogant and manipulative, the aristocratic Cecil Valance achieves a possibly undeserved popularity as a poet after his early death in the First World War. Can the truth of his life ever be told by biographers? This seems unlikely since even those who claim to know him have very different perceptions. In five separate sections separated by gaps of several years or even decades, the author aims to show the false nature of memory.
You could argue that Hollinghurst is daring in discarding many of the "conventions" of novel-writing. The development of a strong plot is given second place to what often reads like a series of short stories: portrayals of characters who make only brief appearances, or the description of quite minor incidents, evocative of past generations, but very amusing, ludicrous or in the style of a black comedy. The author tends to build up anticipation of a certain outcome, only for it not to occur, insofar as one can judge! Significant events are frequently no more than implied.
Although this book promises much, my growing suspicion that it would not deliver proved justified. It suffers from being too long, repetitive in its limited revelations and self-indulgent, not least in its campness – I grew tired of "blushing" and "giggling" men of all ages.
It does not bother me that most of the characters are very middle class , but there are certainly too many of them to relate to easily, and I was left feeling I had waded through an Oxford don's overblown soap opera fantasy.
I know that "the stranger's child" is a quotation from Tennyson's "In Memoriam" read aloud by Cecil in Part 1, and thanks to Roderick Blythe for explaining to me in the comment below its meaning in the title.