1. Why did Alan Hollinghurst choose the title The
2. The Stranger's Child has an immense cast of
memorable characters. Who is your favourite among the principal
protagonists of each section of the book? Why? Who is your
favourite minor character?
3. What are the main themes of The Stranger's
Child? How does each section develop and alter the main
4. The Stranger's Child is an
extraordinarily subtle novel. How much does The Stranger's
Child tell us directly, and how much does it leave us to
infer? Why? How does Alan Hollinghurst deploy hints about plot
events and characters in the novel?
5. How good a poet is Cecil Valance?
6. Harry Hewitt, Revel Ralph, Eva Riley, Frau Kalbeck, Peter
Rowe, Rob Salter: what is the significance of characters who come
and go in The Stranger's Child, compared to those
the novel focuses on at greater length?
7. How is your sense of Paul Bryant and his book about Cecil
Valance changed by Jennifer Ralph's comments about
Paul as the novel closes? What is Alan Hollinghurst saying about
reliability and truth?
8. Several significant English writers have produced historical
works in the last few years, from A.S. Byatt's The
Children's Book to Ian McEwan's
Atonement. What qualities does The
Stranger's Child share with these books, or
others like them? And in what ways does it seem a novel written in
an earlier age, like one by Balzac or Tolstoy?
9. How effectively and to what purpose does Alan Hollinghurst
present other people's words in the novel - from Cecil's poems, to
Paul Bryant's diary, to Dudley's memoir?
10. Alan Hollinghurst begins each new section of the novel
without telling us when the action is happening, or who it is
happening to. Given the passage of time and changes of heart
between sections we may initially struggle to "catch up" with the
changes the characters have undergone. How did you feel about these
transitions, and what effect do you think they are intended to
11. What is the significance of love in the novel?
12. What does The Stranger's Child try
to tell us about twentieth-century England?
13. Re-read the opening page of the novel carefully. What does
it tell us about Daphne, and how? How does it prepare us for what
follows? What does it suggest, without saying it directly, and what
does it leave out?
14. Discuss the importance of Corley Court - and the changes it
undergoes - in the novel. What is the significance of the other
named houses in the novel, from Carraveen to Two Acres? How are
places in The Stranger's Child as important as
15. Discuss The Stranger's Child as a novel
about homosexuality. How and why does The Stranger's
Child set out to write scenes that, as Paul Bryant puts
it, "had never been described at all"?
16. What role do family and social events - dinners, parties -
play in the novel's structure? Why did Alan Hollinghurst choose to
organize much of the book around them this way?
17. Make a list of some of the echoes in the book (for example,
it takes four hundred pages until we find out what "womanizer"
means in Cecil and George's slang). What connects in the book, and
in what ways is The Stranger's Child a
book about things failing to connect?
18. Discuss the significance of poetry (real and invented), both
in the novel and in the epigraphs that start each section.
19. Discuss the treatment of history in The Stranger's
Child. Why does The Stranger's
Child skip over World Wars One and Two?
20. What plot development (amorous or otherwise) surprised you
most about The Stranger's Child?
21. What role does humour play in The Stranger's
Child? You might consider the various kinds: the
Cambridge wit which leaves the recipient unsure whether or not to
laugh; Dudley's mockery of all that he is expected to hold sacred;
the novel's own sometimes gently lewd turns of
phrase; and so on.
22. To what extent is The Stranger's Child
a novel about parents and children? What does it have to
tell us about these family relationships?
23. In what ways is The Stranger''s Child
about the effects of celebrity and fame? Consider both
Cecil Valance's abiding interest for later generations, and the
more immediate effects of his personal magnetism on those around
24. Real people come and go through the novel - Churchill is
said to quote "Two Acres" in Valance's obituary; Daphne's mother
met Tennyson. What effect does this have on the novel's portrait of
25. What happens to the letters from Cecil that George's mother,
Freda, has in her handbag and keeps from Sebastian Stokes?
26. How are the Valance brothers, Cecil and Dudley, similar? How
are they different?
27. "Was the era of hearsay about to give way to an age of
documentation?" What role does biography play in the novel's
treatment of history? What does The Stranger's
Child make you think about our efforts to remember or
preserve the past?
28. What are Lady Valance's "book tests" and why do they
29. Paul Bryant is emphatically "not an Oxford man." How
important is being part of the club, or establishment, in this
novel, and how does this change? What other kinds of clubs start to
replace the establishment as time goes on?
30. What is the significance of Paul's "purchase" of Evelyn
Waugh's Letters at the bookshop in Oxford?
31. How did you feel at the end of the novel? Do you find the
conclusion satisfying? Why or why not?
32. How would you relate The Stranger's
Child to Alan Hollinghurst's other novels, if you
have read them?
33. If you could ask Alan Hollinghurst one question about his
novel, what would it be?
34. Will you recommend this book to your friends? Why, or why