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?