September 29th, 2011

book and cup

#95 The Stranger's Child - Alan Hollinghurst (2011)

Read on kindle

In the late summer of 1913 the aristocratic young poet Cecil Valance comes to stay at 'Two Acres', the home of his close Cambridge friend George Sawle. The weekend will be one of excitements and confusions for all the Sawles, but it is on George's sixteen-year-old sister Daphne that it will have the most lasting impact, when Cecil writes her a poem which will become a touchstone for a generation, an evocation of an England about to change for ever.

Linking the Sawle and Valance families irrevocably, the shared intimacies of this weekend become legendary events in a larger story, told and interpreted in different ways over the coming century, and subjected to the scrutiny of critics and biographers with their own agendas and anxieties. In a sequence of widely separated episodes we follow the two families through startling changes in fortune and circumstance.

I originally downloaded this novel to my kindle, when it was long-listed for the booker prize, and seemed at the time to be hotly tipped to win. Then of course it sadly failed to make the short list.

This is a novel that those who loved such works as Atonement and Brideshead Revisited will find themselves right at home with. Opening in 1913, it tells the story of the beguiling young poet Cecil Valance, who having woven a spell over both George and Daphne Sawle, writes a poem which becomes famous following Cecils death during WW1.
Although Cecil is only present as a character for a short time, his presence is felt throughout, in the words he left behind, and the legend he becomes as the years go by. The novel follows the fortunes of Cecil's family, as well as his would be biographers throughout much of the following 70 years or so. The story of the weekend, when Cecil, visiting 'Two Acres' with George first meets Daphne Swale - then only 16, are told and re-told. The occasions of their subsequent meetings minutely examined by those who come after.
This is a beautifully written novel, which I have had to read quite slowly over the last 6 days or so - but that has helped me appreciate it properly.
I must say I did love this book, and I am hoping to go to a talk by Alan Hollinghurst in October during the Birmingham book festival. Having read this will make it all the more fascinating.