IoS paperback review: The Stranger's Child, By Alan Hollinghurst
Far-reaching effects of a poet's life
Sunday 16 December 2012
Cecil Valance is a poet, aristocrat, and Cambridge undergraduate, whom we meet in 1913 when he visits his friend and clandestine lover George Sawle at his home, Two Acres.
Cecil also finds time for a brief flirtation with George's younger sister, Daphne, and writes a poem for her autograph album which becomes one of his most famous works – posthumously, as he is killed in the Great War.
The first 105 pages are a preternaturally vivid and deliciously readable evocation of Edwardian Britain, which might have been written by E M Forster or Ford Madox Ford, and the excerpts of Cecil's poetry are a pitch-perfect parody of the early 20th-century English pastoral genre of verse, written in jingling tetrameters – the titles alone, "Two Acres", "Soldiers Dreaming" and "The Old Companions" suggest a kind of sub Rupert Brooke. The next section is an equally vivid evocation of Britain in the 1920s; and the next section, Britain in the 1960s; and so on, up to 2008, and in each era the effects of Cecil's life and death on the survivors change, as the truth becomes overlaid by mythology.
The gradual ageing and changing of Daphne and the rest of the Sawle family is brilliantly observed – almost as if Hollinghurst belongs to a race of elves which live long enough to witness the entire life-cycle of a human being.
A novel about time, and change, and art, and sex, and death, which is also as light as a soufflé. It's clever, subtle, melancholy, and amusing all at the same time. It's a reviewer's cliche, I know, but I did actually miss my stop on the Tube while reading this.
Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Canadian actor punched in face after 'Islamophobia' experiment goes wrong in wake of Ottawa shooting
- 2 Topshop at centre of row over body image as 'shocking' skinny mannequin photo goes viral
- 3 Woman blinded as a child can see again after hitting her head on a coffee table
- 4 Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson criticised for beer tweet
- 5 The bubble bursts for Sodastream
JK Rowling's Harry Potter Halloween stories: Dolores Umbridge was based on real person she 'disliked intensely'
Best horror films of all time
Your Halloween playlist: From 'Thriller' and 'Ghostbusters' to Marilyn Manson and Eminem
Benedict Cumberbatch describes the 'explosive' Sherlock sex scene that will never happen
Downton Abbey season 5 episode 6 - review: Thomas and Lady Edith show sad signs of the times
Pope Francis declares evolution and Big Bang theory are real and God is not 'a magician with a magic wand'
Huge surge in Ukip support after EU funding row, according to new poll
Ukip ‘exploiting grooming scandal’ to secure party’s first police chief
Nigel Farage: 'There’s nothing wrong with white people blacking up'
Maureen Lipman says 'she can't vote Labour while Ed Miliband is leader'
Muslims, immigration and teenage pregnancy: British people are ignorant about almost everything