Book reviews: The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst

The Stranger's Child The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Oh, a family saga stretching out over decades. If I’d known that, I probably wouldn’t have picked this book. Well-written, at least.”

That was my reaction upon reaching the end of the first section and jumping forward a decade or so in the second section. Pretty well sums up the book for me, even after finishing it.

One summer, shortly before World War I, George Sawle brings his school chum Cecil Valance home with him for a weekend. (One must use the phrase “school chum” because this IS England after all, and an upper-class Edwardian England, at that.) Cecil is a user and a player, as the astute reader will recognize at once. He’s also a poet, albeit not a particularly good one, but one whose good looks, personal charm, and social graces entice his audience to overlook the banality of his art. This brief summer visit results in a poem that somehow manages to transcend its author’s limitations; and the circumstances that led to the creation of this poem resonate through the decades that follow.

If, like me, you take an instant dislike to young Cecil, the adulation that follows through the rest of the novel (especially in Part 2, the immediate aftermath of WWI) may be annoying. Push through it, though, and pay attention to the damage this young man caused. Actions have consequences, lies beget lies, and some lies and consequences don’t reveal themselves until much, much later.

An engaging read.

View all my reviews

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