Sunday, 19 June 2011

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger's Child

Alan Hollinghurst is not a prolific author, and The Stranger’s Child is his first novel since A Line of Beauty won the Booker Prize in 2004. He was born in Stroud in Gloucestershire, England in 1954 and his early publications were mainly poetry. His first novel, The Swimming-Pool Library (1988), gives an account of London gay life in the early 1980s through the story of a young aristocrat, William Beckwith, and his involvement with the elderly Lord Nantwich, whose life he saves. It was followed by The Folding Star in 1994, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. The narrator, Edward Manners, develops an obsessive passion for his pupil, a 17-year-old Flemish boy, in a story that was compared by many critics to Thomas Mann's novella Death in Venice. Spell (1998) has been described as a gay comedy of manners, which interweaves the complex relationships between 40-something architect Robin Woodfield, his alcoholic lover Justin, and Justin's ex, timid civil servant Alex, who falls in love with Robin's son Danny. The action moves between the English countryside and London where Danny introduces Alex to ecstasy and clubbing. The Line of Beauty (2004) traces a decade of change and won the 2004 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

The Stranger’s Child spans almost the whole of the 20th century, tracing the intertwined stories of two families. Advance notices suggest a very strong book, which will certainly come into consideration for the Booker Prize again. Amazon list both a hardcover and a paperback (as well as the now ubiquitous Kindle edition). I would expect a fairly large print run, and signed copies should be fairly easily available if you look around. A 40 copy leather-bound edition is  available, from Tuskar Rock press, and there is also a numbered and signed edition of 500 copies in slipcase availale from Goldsboro Books.

“In the late summer of 1913 the aristocratic young poet Cecil Valance comes to stay at ‘Two Acres’, the home of his close Cambridge friend George Sawle. The weekend will be one of excitements and confusions for all the Sawles, but it is on George’s sixteen-year-old sister Daphne that it will have the most lasting impact, when Cecil writes her a poem which will become a touchstone for a generation, an evocation of an England about to change forever.

Linking the Sawle and Valance families irrevocably, the shared intimacies of this weekend become legendary events in a larger story, told and interpreted in different ways over the coming century, and subjected to the scrutiny of critics and biographers with their own agendas and anxieties. In a sequence of widely separated episodes we follow the two families through startling changes in fortune and circumstance.

At the centre of this often richly comic history of sexual mores and literary reputation runs the story of Daphne, from innocent girlhood to wary old age. Around her Hollinghurst draws an absorbing picture of an England constantly in flux. As in The Line of Beauty, his impeccably nuanced exploration of changing taste, class and social etiquette is conveyed in deliciously witty and observant prose. Exposing our secret longings to the shocks and surprises of time, The Stranger’s Child is an enthralling novel from one of the finest writers in the English language.”


Isherwood is at Santa Monica, Sycamore Press Broadsheet, 1975. £125-150
A Florilegium for John Florio, Sycamore Press, Oxford, 1981. £125-150.
Confidential Chats with Boys, Sycamore Press, Oxford, 1982. £125-200.
The Swimming-Pool Library, Chatto & Windus, 1988. Under £20.
The Folding Star, Chatto & Windus, 1994. Under £10.
The Spell, Chatto & Windus, 1998. Under £10
The Line of Beauty, Picador, 2004. Under £15.
The Stranger's Child, Picador, 2011. At cost.

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