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56-Jan-Feb-2012
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A-The Strangers ChildAlan Hollinghurst won the Man Booker Prize in 2004 for his novel The Line of Beauty ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection Jan/Feb 2005). He is also the author of several other novels and is a former deputy editor of the Times Literary Supplement.

The Story: In Hollinghurst's novel, every Englishman knows a few lines of Cecil Valance's iconic "Two Acres," that paean to bucolic country life and all that was lost in World War One. The fictional poem and poet lie at the heart of The Stranger's Child, a history, of sorts, of gay love. Even in the book's universe, though, the poem is not all that it seems. Generations assumed that it was written for a 16-year-old girl who became the poet's honorary widow. It was, in fact, addressed to her brother and Valance's secret lover, and several lines proving as much were left out. Hollinghurst dramatizes several generations of English life by connecting them to efforts to uncover the truth of the poem (if there is such a thing). In the process, Hollinghurst sketches out a secret gay history of modern English literature.
Knopf. 448 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 9780307272768

Independent (UK) 5 of 5 Stars
"It is a rare thing to read a novel buoyed up by the certainty that it will stand among the year's best, but rarer still to become confident of its value in decades to come (notwithstanding the cautionary example of Cecil's ‘pretty phrases', which Hollinghurst--first published as a poet--evidently enjoyed concocting). I would compare the novel to Middlemarch, for its precision, pathos (a less expected quality, perhaps) and perfect phrasing, were Eliot not so underappreciated as a comic writer today." Richard Canning

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The Stranger's Child ... is a sly and ravishing masterpiece. ... The Stranger's Child restores gay life and love to the vibrant center of the British novel without a hint of solemnity or righteousness, only supple prose and a sodden, fun bunch of obviously, gloriously gay characters. Seldom has literary restitution proved so pleasurable." Parul Sehgal

Spectator (UK) 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Rather than use its scale to produce the weightless afflatus of a family saga, The Stranger's Child captures as well as anything I've read the particular gravity of time passing, and the irrecoverable losses it brings with it. It is an extraordinary achievement." Sam Leith

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]he new book certainly falls somewhat short of Hollinghurst's best work--The Swimming Pool Library, The Folding Star and The Line of Beauty. Unlike them, it's merely very good: it doesn't leave you dazed, page after page, with the brilliance, wit and subtlety of its perceptions. Is this an ungrateful line of criticism? Probably: The Stranger's Child will no doubt be one of the best novels published this year." Theo Tait

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Hollinghurst's fine new book, The Stranger's Child--the closest thing he has written to an old-fashioned chronicle novel--contains a whole hidden literary curriculum, out of which he has fashioned something fresh and vital." Thomas Mallon

Observer (UK)4 of 5 Stars
"It is the signal achievement of The Stranger's Child to show that, despite the silence in which relationships like that of Cecil and George were shrouded, their influence has echoed on through the years, as an unconscious pattern for other friendships and love affairs." Hari Kunzru

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"As told in five sections spanning nearly a century, The Stranger's Child uses the mode to startling, marvelous effect, as his characters grow old and perish while the fractured, uncertain memories of each remain--for future inhabitants to debate and unearth." Adam Eaglin

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Hollinghurst conveys the vast changes in England and the world that took place over the generations. ... And [he does this] while preserving a truly Jamesian fineness of perception, his own consciousness darting around those of his characters, recording every desire and hesitation and misunderstanding." Adam Kirsch

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Stranger's Child is something of a literary performance, but its perceptive insights about the inexorable passage of time make it worth the price of admission." Eileen Weiner

Critical Summary

In finding the words to praise Hollinghurst's journey through a century of gay and literary life in England, critics turned to many literary precedents: Henry James, Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, E. M. Forster's Maurice and Howards End, and George Eliot's Middlemarch, to name a few. Many also wrote that The Stranger's Child meets or exceeds recent English novels with similar themes, such as Ian McEwan's Atonement or A. S. Byatt's Possession. Indeed, the book is distinguished on every level, from its finely observed prose to the originality and authenticity of its characters, but what truly puts it over the top is the scale of its ambition. More than one critic observed that the book has the potential to reorder ideas of English literary life itself. Hollinghurst is, in sum, "one of the best novelists at work today" (Wall Street Journal), and The Stranger's Child shows why he may also be one of the most lasting.