“The Stranger’s Child” by Alan Hollinghurst (2011) – book review

I remember the day I began reading this book. A bookcase at home unsurprisingly collapsed, Tower of Babel-like, under the weight of so many tomes, and as its replacement was lovingly installed, I came across this novel and decided to give it a go.

I was hooked from the first page on reading : “with the book held tiringly above her face…now the light had gone and the words began to hide themselves on the page”.

Am about to embark on another Hollingsworth choice, as I did find this a compelling tale well told, and am happy there is quite a bit more to discover.  I do however have friends who have been disappointed with this read, so had to think long and hard about what I really enjoyed about it. Think it is the depiction of the loss of memory, the idea of how things are interpreted over the decades, and the actual style of writing that resonated with me.

Have seen comparisons with literary greats from “Brideshead Revisited” mentioned in reviews, and Hollinghurst is sometimes held up to be the heir apparent for Henry James – and he is a past master at set-piece recounting (describes that highly cultured wife half way through, for example, as having “a hard, good-looking face, thoroughly made up, and a manner he knew at once, from its tight smiles and frowns, of getting people to do things“, and plentiful examples abound). I was oft reminded of certain scenes from McEwan’s “Atonement”, and felt it was reminiscent too of the gloriously flowing style that Sarah Waters employs.

Felt a surge of strange joy yet worried recognition around page 500, with the comment that

“she felt something similar, but worse in a way, about hundreds and hundreds of books she had read, novels, biographies, occasional books about music and art – she could remember nothing about them at all, so that it seemed rather pointless even to say that she had read them”.

It’s a horrible feeling to know you know something, yet cannot retrieve it from the filed bookshelves of your mind. Another shudder, and am off to partake in some additional Vitamin C.

Read in August 2013.

Rated : 10/10

Man Booker Prize Longlist 2011, National Book Award UK Author of the Year 2011, Walter Scott Prize Nominee 2012, Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger 2013…

Image taken from here.
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7 Responses to “The Stranger’s Child” by Alan Hollinghurst (2011) – book review

  1. Julie says:

    Aha. I have this on my shelf and I picked it up the other day and showed it to a friend to get an opinion and she didn’t like it at all so I was discouraged from reading it…I’m so happy that you are recommending it and giving it 10/10 and I’ll pick it up again with enthusiasm. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure Alan H is everyone’s cup of tea, so I guess it’s only through reading it that it’s possible to judge. Was passed on a quite brilliant post from a blog written by a teacher today, and am going to ask if I can share his article on the passion for reading – loved comments like “I have always shied away, a little, from lists that tell people what to read – an early experience with Jane Austen scarred me for life, I think – and have argued, instead, that what is good for one person may not be good for another” – he goes on to say that while each to his own, the key is the act of taking pleasure from reading (“As a teacher of English, it would be surprising if I thought any differently, but, really, I cannot imagine living a life that was not uplifted, enriched, given focus, by the literary creativity of others”). It’s a really brilliant post. So fingers crossed that you enjoy TSC too – but if not,we tried! and are plenty other mutually loved books to rave over, I know….Nxx

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  3. Hi girls…catching up via phone. Sorry to say I really ended up disliking this book. Not my cup of tea…but happy that you enjoyed it. xx

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  4. The jury is definitely out! Am going to try and read another Hollinghurst very soon to compare and contrast, have got both “Swimming Pool Library” and “The Line of Beauty” to hand, so will plunge back in and see how a second novel from the same author reads. Nxx

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  5. I read this a while ago not long after it was first published but I remember enjoying it. The Line of Beauty is still my favourite though.

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  6. Thank you – this is the one I will read next, then – thank you for the recommendation. Just seen your enticing review of “The Sealed Letter” on your blog ( http://alittleblogofbooks.com/2012/11/08/the-sealed-letter-by-emma-donoghue/ ) and that’s another one on the shelf not far from TLOB – now you’ve made me want to start that one too… Is never-ending. xx

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  7. Pingback: The Man Booker Prize and 2015 winner of the Man Booker International Prize | Literary ramblings etc

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