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

The Stranger's Child

byAlan Hollinghurst

Paperback | September 4, 2012

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In the late summer of 1913, George Sawle brings his Cambridge schoolmate--a handsome, aristocratic young poet named Cecil Valance--to his family's modest home outside London for the weekend. George is enthralled by Cecil, and soon his sixteen-year-old sister, Daphne, is equally besotted by him and the stories he tells about Corley Court, the country estate he is heir to. But what Cecil writes in Daphne's autograph album will change their and their families' lives forever: a poem that, after Cecil is killed in the Great War and his reputation burnished, will become a touchstone for a generation, a work recited by every schoolchild in England. Over time, a tragic love story is spun, even as other secrets lie buried--until, decades later, an ambitious biographer threatens to unearth them. The Stranger's Child is a tour de force: a masterful novel about the lingering power of desire, how the heart creates its own history, and how legends are made.

ALAN HOLLINGHURST is the author of The Swimming-Pool Library, The Spell, The Folding Star and the Man Booker Prize-winning, NBCC Award finalist The Line of Beauty. He has received the Somerset Maugham Award, the E. M. Forster Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction. He live...
Title:The Stranger's ChildFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:448 pages, 8 × 5.2 × 0.9 inShipping dimensions:8 × 5.2 × 0.9 inPublished:September 4, 2012Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307398439

ISBN - 13:9780307398437


Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointed I truly loved about the first 3/4 of the book. Plot was interesting, characters were great so I was excited to read on. Unfortunately the ending fell flat for me. No grand finale for the characters and their legacies that seemed to be building throughout the entire novel. It all felt like a waste in the end.
Date published: 2017-03-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Just not the right book... A timeless story that revolves around mainly three characters and we continue to feel their influence for many generations. Very well written, however I thought it the plot was dull and without much interest.
Date published: 2017-01-04

Read from the Book

She’d been lying in the hammock reading poetry for over an hour. It wasn’t easy: she was thinking all the while about George coming back with Cecil, and she kept sliding down, in small half-willing surrenders, till she was in a heap, with the book held tiringly above her face. Now the light was going, and the words began to hide among themselves on the page. She wanted to get a look at Cecil, to drink him in for a minute before he saw her, and was introduced, and asked her what she was reading. But he must have missed his train, or at least his connection: she saw him pacing the long platform at Harrow and Wealdstone, and rather regretting he’d come. Five minutes later, as the sunset sky turned pink above the rockery, it began to seem possible that something worse had happened. With sudden grave excitement she pictured the arrival of a telegram, and the news being passed round; imagined weeping pretty wildly; then saw herself describing the occasion to someone, many years later, though still without quite deciding what the news had been. In the sitting-room the lamps were being lit, and through the open window she could hear her mother talking to Mrs. Kalbeck, who had come to tea, and who tended to stay, having no one to get back for. The glow across the path made the garden suddenly lonelier. Daphne slipped out of the hammock, put on her shoes, and forgot about her books. She started towards the house, but something in the time of day held her, with its hint of a mystery she had so far overlooked: it drew her down the lawn, past the rockery, where the pond that reflected the trees in silhouette had grown as deep as the white sky. It was the long still moment when the hedges and borders turned dusky and vague, but anything she looked at closely, a rose, a begonia, a glossy laurel leaf, seemed to give itself back to the day with a secret throb of colour. She heard a faint familiar sound, the knock of the broken gate against the post at the bottom of the garden; and then an unfamiliar voice, with an edge to it, and then George’s laugh. He must have brought Cecil the other way, through the Priory and the woods. Daphne ran up the narrow half-hidden steps in the rockery and from the top she could just make them out in the spinney below. She couldn’t really hear what they were saying, but she was disconcerted by Cecil’s voice; it seemed so quickly and decisively to take control of their garden and their house and the whole of the coming weekend. It was an excitable voice that seemed to say it didn’t care who heard it, but in its tone there was also something mocking and superior. She looked back at the house, the dark mass of the roof and the chimney-stacks against the sky, the lamp-lit windows under low eaves, and thought about Monday, and the life they would pick up again very readily after Cecil had gone. Under the trees the dusk was deeper, and their little wood seemed interestingly larger. The boys were dawdling, for all Cecil’s note of impatience. Their pale clothes, the rim of George’s boater, caught the failing light as they moved slowly between the birch-trunks, but their faces were hard to make out. George had stopped and was poking at something with his foot, Cecil, taller, standing close beside him, as if to share his view of it. She went cautiously towards them, and it took her a moment to realize that they were quite unaware of her; she stood still, smiling awkwardly, let out an anxious gasp, and then, mystified and excited, began to explore her position. She knew that Cecil was a guest and too grown-up to play a trick on, though George was surely in her power. But having the power, she couldn’t think what to do with it. Now Cecil had his hand on George’s shoulder, as if consoling him, though he was laughing too, more quietly than before; the curves of their two hats nudged and overlapped. She thought there was something nice in Cecil’s laugh, after all, a little whinny of good fun, even if, as so often, she was not included in the joke. Then Cecil raised his head and saw her and said, “Oh, hello!” as if they’d already met several times and enjoyed it. George was confused for a second, peered at her as he quickly buttoned his jacket, and said, “Cecil missed his train,” rather sharply. “Well, clearly,” said Daphne, who chose a certain dryness of tone against the constant queasy likelihood of being teased. “And then of course I had to see Middlesex,” said Cecil, coming forward and shaking her hand. “We seem to have tramped over much of the county.” “He brought you the country way,” said Daphne. “There’s the country way, and the suburban way, which doesn’t create such a fine impression. You just go straight up Stanmore Hill.” George wheezed with embarrassment, and also a kind of relief. “There, Cess, you’ve met my sister.” Cecil’s hand, hot and hard, was still gripping hers, in a frank, convivial way. It was a large hand, and somehow unfeeling; a hand more used to gripping oars and ropes than the slender fingers of sixteen-yearold girls. She took in his smell, of sweat and grass, the sourness of his breath. When she started to pull her fingers out, he squeezed again, for a second or two, before releasing her. She didn’t like the sensation, but in the minute that followed she found that her hand held the memory of his hand, and half-wanted to reach out through the shadows and touch it again. “I was reading poetry,” she said, “but I’m afraid it grew too dark to see.” “Ah!” said Cecil, with his quick high laugh, that was almost a snigger; but she sensed he was looking at her kindly. In the late dusk they had to peer closely to be sure of each other’s expressions; it made them seem particularly interested in each other. “Which poet?” She had Tennyson’s poems, and also the Granta, with three of Cecil’s own poems in it, “Corley,” “Dawn at Corley” and “Corley: Dusk.” She said, “Oh, Alfred, Lord Tennyson.” Cecil nodded slowly and seemed amused by searching for the kind and lively thing to say. “Do you find he still holds up?” he said. “Oh yes,” said Daphne firmly, and then wondered if she’d understood the question. She glanced between the lines of trees, but with a sense of other shadowy perspectives, the kind of Cambridge talk that George often treated them to, where things were insisted on that couldn’t possibly be meant. It was a refinement of teasing, where you were never told why your answer was wrong. “We all love Tennyson here,” she said, “at ‘Two Acres.’ ” Now Cecil’s eyes seemed very playful, under the broad peak of his cap. “Then I can see we shall get on,” he said. “Let’s all read out our favourite poems—if you like to read aloud.” “Oh yes!” said Daphne, excited already, though she’d never heard Hubert read out anything except a letter in The Times that he agreed with. “Which is your favourite?” she said, with a moment’s worry that she wouldn’t have heard of it. Cecil smiled at them both, savouring his power of choice, and said, “Well, you’ll find out when I read it to you.” “I hope it’s not ‘The Lady of Shalott,’ ” said Daphne. “Oh, I like ‘The Lady of Shalott.’ ”  “I mean, that’s my favourite,” said Daphne. George said, “Well, come up and meet Mother,” spreading his arms to shepherd them. “And Mrs. Kalbeck’s here too,” said Daphne, “by the way.” “Then we’ll try and get rid of her,” said George. “Well, you can try . . . ,” said Daphne. “I’m already feeling sorry for Mrs. Kalbeck,” said Cecil, “whoever she may be.” “She’s a big black beetle,” said George, “who took Mother to Germany last year, and hasn’t let go of her since.” “She’s a German widow,” said Daphne, with a note of sad realism and a pitying shake of the head. She found Cecil had spread his arms too and, hardly thinking, she did the same; for a moment they seemed united in a lightly rebellious pact.

Bookclub Guide

1. Why did Alan Hollinghurst choose the title The Stranger’s Child?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 ideas?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 have?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 characters?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 him.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 the past?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 matter?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 not?

Editorial Reviews

"One of the best, if not the best, works of literary fiction of 2011." —Toronto Star"Part social history, part social comedy and wholly absorbing, The Stranger's Child does everything a novel should do and makes it look easy." —The Washington Post"The most originally and brilliantly structured novel I've read in a long time." —Julian Barnes, The Guardian"Fresh and vital...wonderfully precise...steadily satisfying." —The New York Times Book Review