Day 1100: The Stranger’s Child

Cover for The Stranger's ChildI had the oddest experience with The Stranger’s Child. Although it was well written and sounded like something I would be interested in, for a while every time I started to read it, I fell asleep. There is very little movement to this novel, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the end of it had me wondering what the point of it was.

The novel is multigenerational, beginning in 1913 and ending in 2008. In 1913, Daphne Sawle, who is 16, is attracted to her brother George’s friend, Cecil Valance, down for a visit from Cambridge. Cecil is an aristocrat and a poet. Unbeknownst to naive Daphne, he and George are having a wild affair.

The next section of the book takes place ten years after World War I. Cecil died in the war, and the family is dedicating a memorial to him. The family includes Daphne, as she has married Cecil’s younger brother, Dudley, and they have two children. However, she is in love with Revel Ralph, a set designer for the theater.

By far the bulk of the novel is set in the 1960’s and 70’s and is from the point of view of Paul Bryant. In the 1960’s, he is a shy bank clerk. He has become involved with the family through his boss, who has married into it, and through his affair with Peter Rowe, a schoolteacher at Corley House, which used to be the Valance home. Cecil is now regarded as one of England’s minor poets.

Ten years later, Paul is a biographer, determined to out Cecil as a gay man despite the claims of Daphne to have been his fianceé. It is unfortunate that I found this main character of the longest section to be so unappealing and completely focused on who was or was not gay, although I realize that the 1970’s was the time for that kind of revelation.

Part of my problem with the novel may have been the blurb, which really oversells aspects of the plot. For example, it says, “Over time, a tragic love story is spun . . . .” Well, there are several love stories that come out, but I wouldn’t call any of them tragic, and it’s actually difficult to tell which of them this comment refers to. One of the secrets is so understated during the novel that even though it is the last revelation, it seems anticlimactic. I suppose it’s supposed to be ironic that Paul is so focused on the possibility of one affair that he completely misses another.

Finally, this is a novel so focused on the sexuality of its characters that it gives the impression that the entire upper class male population of England is gay. We see a little into Daphne’s infatuations, but otherwise, only from the point of view of various gay men trolling for sex or obsessing about it. Those of you who know me will realize that I would have the same complaint if the sole focus was on heterosexual sex. So, not one of my favorites for my Walter Scott prize project.

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6 thoughts on “Day 1100: The Stranger’s Child

  1. Helen June 27, 2017 / 3:23 pm

    I’ll link this to my Walter Scott Prize page. I haven’t read this one yet and am not really looking forward to it.

    • whatmeread June 27, 2017 / 3:39 pm

      Maybe you’ll like it more than I did.

  2. FictionFan June 27, 2017 / 6:13 pm

    Gotta admit I’m so tired of the contemporary obsession in fiction with sex, sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identification. I guess I just don’t much care who people are sleeping with in general – is it really the only, or even most, important thing in life? Grumpy old woman signing off now… 😉

  3. whatmeread June 27, 2017 / 11:41 pm

    I agree. I don’t mind it as a subplot, but not as the focus of the novel.

  4. Geoff W June 30, 2017 / 1:55 pm

    Hollinghurst has a very dense writing style and I’m convinced it’s gotten denser and slower each novel. I feel like so many of his works move glacially slow and it’s hard to focus because of how slow they are. I haven’t made it through this one yet, but will eventually.

    I would’ve cautioned you against anything from Hollinghurst based on your and FictionFan’s comments. He is a gay man and began writing about the lived experience of gay men from his first book in 1988 and it is the primary theme of all of his works. He was writing about this prior to Section 28 and even set his first book (I’m pretty sure) in Thatcherite England, he is writing what he knows and expounding upon it. It also removes it from the contemporary field when he’s been doing it for nearly 30 years at this point.

    • whatmeread June 30, 2017 / 6:33 pm

      You know, I don’t mind at all reading fiction about gay men. I just don’t want it to be almost the only focus. I didn’t realize it was such a focus with him, but I am trying to read all the finalists for the prize, whether I’m going to like them or not. It is a slow-moving novel, but usually that doesn’t bother me. Maybe that was what was making me fall asleep, though!

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