If one were to judge a book by its cover, and especially a slick cover like this one, then this book would spell out: ‘elegant’, ‘artful’, ‘English’, ‘classy’ and ‘ambiguous’. And yet, somehow, this is entirely true of Alan Hollinghurst’s latest novel, and even possibly of all his writing.
Beginning in 1913, The Stranger’s Child tells the story of Daphne Sawle who becomes the recipient of a poem about her home “Two Acres”, written by Cecil Valance, a visiting friend and lover of her brother George. The poem becomes a touchstone for a generation, and the vehicle for the novel’s untangling of secrets. Through it and Daphne’s eyes, we go on a journey as England and the changing attitudes of generations help shape the reader’s opinions and knowledge of what it means to be in the public eye.
…a kind of archaic form of English slang.
Hollinghurst’s latest novel is not your usual, simply cut out narrative. Nor is it strained through being entirely unique. It exists between a world of high-class literature and a fairer form of communication; a kind of archaic form of English slang.
Having said that, it does not entirely belong to either, but rather fits within a unique space, in which Hollinghurst is able to make the reader feel as if they are within the scenario. As if it were coming by before them in bite sized segments. He avoids never ending paragraphing, making his writing very selective and specific through its intention.
…time will serve as the greatest admirer.
There are no words spared here, and if poetry were the only form of minimalism in the art of writing – a kind of process of selection and illumination of what is not needed – then Hollinghurst’s novel begs to differ. He manages to do what Stephen King may take up to twenty pages to express within one sentence. His characters come alive through dialogue, and often simple, noted gestures, which are used to evoke underpinning issues within the narrative and relationship spectrum.
That is the beauty of this novel; it is a well-researched and socially aware piece of writing, a fully expressive piece of history reignited for the reader. While being judiciously selective and engrossing word by word.
Hollinghurst may have been robbed of the Booker Prize here (he did not make it past the long list), but then, as his novel so perfectly tells through a poem’s creation, dedication and preservation: time will serve as the greatest admirer. As The Stranger’s Child will most definitely become an emblem of historical importance, a classic of our canon. Thus more important than winning an award, it is simply memorable and moving.
The Stranger’s Child is published by Picador and is available for £20 (HB)
Image courtesy of Alan Hollinghurst