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.
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Salisbury ranked seventh-best city in the world to visit in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015
- 2 Disney announces new female-led film Moana
- 3 Banksy arrest hoax: Internet duped by fake online report claiming artist's identity has been revealed
- 4 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
- 5 Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Jose Manuel Barroso warns David Cameron against making 'historic mistake' over immigration reforms
Worst Airports of 2014: Poll names Islamabad airport in Pakistan worst in the world