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The Stranger's Child Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 11, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“The Booker Prize-winning author’s new novel covers a century and traces a love triangle torn from the pages of Brideshead Revisited , though at least one side of the triangle is addressed more directly than Waugh did in his classic tale. With ambition and scope Hollinghurst uses a ‘love in wartime’ narrative to explore the deep and wildly complicated connections between memory and what passes for history.”
Publishers Weekly Top 100

“A running motif in this witty and ultimately very moving novel is that certain truths—like the gay relationships of that earlier time, perhaps all human desires—are unrecordable and, to some extent, unknowable. The past and the present form a kind of palimpsest that leaves neither wholly legible. The book raises many such ideas, but they sit lightly on the page and never dampen the vibrant pleasures of Hollinghurst’s prose or his sparkling dialogue. There are echoes of E. M. Forster, Evelyn Waugh, Elizabeth Bowen and others, but The Stranger’s Child is a Great English Novel in its own right, and a tantalizing read.”
—Tom Beer, Newsday

“[Hollinghurst] is a writer who revels in the long form. This time he even seems to re-invent the form. The Stranger’s Child has an exceedingly clever structure; it’s essentially five big set pieces, separated by time and history, that take us from 1913 to the present. . . .[It] is both an up-to-date narrative and one of those old-fashioned family sagas with a gay twist . . . Hollinghurst brings to life with enormous skill séances, dinner parties, walks in the woods, children’s theatricals, memorial services, interviews, a weekend in a great house. . . . A tour de force.”
—Andrew Holleran, The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide

“The questions of who wants to keep the past buried and who will finally tell the truth and risk being vilified are essential to Hollinghurst’s remarkably textured tale of historical misconceptions. . . . Writing with a surgeon’s precision, Hollinghurst stages a splendid satire on the English social strata of the 20th century at a time when their formal structure was inevitably fraying around the edges. . . . This gorgeous novel is Hollinghurst’s pièce de résistance, grandly capturing the beauty, despair, and desire of the British upper class, the fragile mess of lives in the footnotes. Showcasing academic pages dog-eared by the march of time, The Stranger’s Child displays the defeated dreams of two families as much as it demonstrates the enduring legacy of a poet’s life and his work.”
—Michael Leonard, Curled Up With a Good Book

“A sly and ravishing masterpiece. . . . The novel skips with indecent ease through 100 years of British political and literary history, concealing its mighty ambition in charm and louche wit. It's a devastating history of gay love, erasure and resilience. It's also a ripping yarn, a simple love (or rather, lust—Hollinghurst's characters are too Wildean for love) story as literary whodunit: Brideshead Revisited crossed with Possession. . . . Behind the bloom of Hollinghurst's prose, another project quietly unfurls. As much as The Stranger's Child is about England and Englishness, about war, about the impulse toward biography, it's profoundly and unmistakably a secret literary history. It's the tapestry of British literature turned around to reveal its seams, to reveal that the history of the British novel has been the history of gay people in Britain. It's Oscar Wilde and A.E. Housman, E.M. Forster and Virginia Woolf and the entire Bloomsbury set, a history—as Cecil's is—of invisibility, secrecy and scandal, censure and frenetic posthumous outing. This précis might be stuffy; the book never is. The Stranger's Child restores gay life and love to the vibrant center of the British novel without a hint of solemnity or righteousness, only supple prose and a sodden, fun bunch of obviously, gloriously gay characters. Seldom has literary restitution proved so pleasurable.”
—Parul Sehgal, Cleveland Plain Dealer

“The high road of modernism has proved unmarked, [but] few see their way so clearly and with such a sure sense of direction as Alan Hollinghurst, whose new novel might be one of the books that Forster did not dare to write in those frightened and fallow years between the publication of A Passage to India and his death in 1970. . . . Hollinghurst, among other things a brilliant impersonator, gives us early on a taste of Cecil's verse . . .  the kind of thing the Georgians, and the Edwardians, loved. Hollinghurst has caught the tone and the sentiment brilliantly. As this novel attests at every level, in the matter of English usage, manners, and mores its author is gifted with perfect pitch. Cecil Valance, with his truculent gaiety and his big hands, is a wonderful creation, the perfect type of upper-class aesthete of the time: self-assured and overbearing—a bully, mocking, and entirely in thrall to himself and his distinctly modest talent. . . . Hollinghurst is a master storyteller, and his book is thrilling in the way that the best Victorian novels are, so that one finds oneself galloping somewhat shamefacedly through the pages in order to discover what happens next. The writing is superb—I can think of no other novelist of the present day, and precious few of the past, who could catch human beings going about the ordinary business of living with the loving exactitude on display here. Two or three times on every page the reader will give a cry of recognition and delight as yet another nail is struck ringingly on the head.  Even Forster, with his eye for detail, could not connect with such accuracy and panache. . . . Dazzlingly atmospheric . . . fantastically intricate windings of a plot, with all manner of excursions along the way—a sequestered cache of letters, questions of doubtful paternity, clandestine affairs—in other words, all the twists and turns that human relations will insist on making. For the daring of its setting out, and for the consistent flash and fire of the writing, The Stranger's Child is to be cherished.”
—John Banville, The New Republic
 
“A sweeping multi-generational family saga . . . beautifully written. The Stranger’s Child has been compared to the work of Evelyn Waugh, E. M. Forster, and, as with Hollinghurst’s previous novels, Henry James, as well as that of contemporaries like Ian McEwan (for Atonement, which, on the surface, has many similarities) and Kazuo Ishiguro (for The Remains of the Day). But Hollinghurst brings a precise elegance to the genre, building upon the novels that came before it.  This was the first novel in a long while that pulled me in wholeheartedly. We live in a time when things struggle to stick: competing influences, recommendations, and links, bombarding us and casting aside one new thing for the next.  . . . It seems difficult to imagine that we wouldn’t take all of these characters with us through our lives in turn.”
—Elizabeth Minkel, The Millions 
 
“Masterful . . . Few novels so skillfully revealed what's really said behind polite facades, and The Stranger's Child displays that talent on a broader canvas. . . . Hollinghurst is a superior novelist of manners, and the brilliance of The Stranger's Child is in how it reveals the ways bad blood and secrets muck with history. When everybody strains to say the appropriate thing, the facts suffer. That theme is perfectly suited for Hollinghurst, who can reveal a host of hidden messages in the simplest utterance (or pursed lips). . . . Psychologically penetrating. . . . brilliant.”
—Mark Athitakis, Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
“At once classically literary and delightfully, subversively modern . . . The Stranger's Child is easily [Hollinghurst’s] most subtle and most ambitious novel. Hollinghurst is a master observer of human and social behavior. As told in five sections spanning nearly a century, The Stranger's Child uses the mode to startling, marvelous effect, as his characters grow old and perish while the fractured, uncertain memories of each remain—for future inhabitants to debate and unearth . . . Fans of Hollinghurst know him for his flawless phrasing, his wickedly funny depictions of class and society, and his distinctive, enduring sensuality, all of which continue here, but in telling the story of a young poet's legacy over the course of a century, Hollinghurst displays an exciting shift from earlier work. . . . Unlike other novels that make use of lengthy passages of time and revolve around long-deceased characters, The Stranger's Child is not as absorbed with nostalgia. It's a clear-eyed look at how strange and perplexing memory is, and how vague and uncertain our relationships, sexual and otherwise, can be. It's a thrilling, enchanting work of art, and the latest in what we can only hope will be a very long career.”
—Adam Eaglin, The San Francisco Chronicle

“Magnificent . . . insightful. Hollinghurst explores how a living, breathing existence can become a biographical subject riddled with omissions and distortions. . . . Hollinghurst divides the novel into five novella-length sections, in each of [which] he demonstrates his knack for conjuring the moments between events, the seeming down time in which the ramifications of turning points in life sort themselves out. His immersion in each period is fluid and free of false notes, collectively fusing into a single symphonic epic. . . . [a] beautifully written, brilliantly observed and masterfully orchestrated novel.”
—Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times

“Gorgeous . . . B...

About the Author

Alan Hollinghurst is the author of the novels The Swimming-Pool Library, The Folding Star, The Spell and The Line of Beauty, which won the Man Booker Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. 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 lives in London.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (October 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307272761
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307272768
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (156 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #414,637 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

101 of 109 people found the following review helpful By Kiwireads on August 2, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
This beautifully written novel is a family saga, but so much more. It starts in 1913 with 16 year old Daphne Sawle lying in a hammock excitedly waiting for her brother George and his friend Cecil to come home for a long weekend. Home is "Two Acres" near London, where Daphne lives with her widowed mother Freda, her older brother Hubert, and George (when he's not at Cambridge). The book spans almost a century and we get to track the family members and their relations to one another in detail. There is also lots in here about how attitudes to World War 1 have changed, the Bloomsbury group and the war poets, how family myths get built up, and most of all, and not surprisingly because it's Alan Hollinghurst, how being gay in England has changed.

The Sawles are comfortably off, but not rich. They're acutely aware that Cecil comes from a much posher family, the Valances, and spend a fair bit of the weekend worrying about diong things right. For example, Jonah, one of their general house servants, is assigned to be Cecil's valet for the weekend, and has no clue what to do but pretends he does. George is infatuated with Cecil, whose strong personality comes through the whole novel. George worries about his mother and sister letting slip just how much detail he's told them about Cecil and his family. Lots happens during the weekend. (I'm trying to avoid spoilers!) It felt like a rewritten version of Brideshead Revisited near the start, only backwards - the rich boy comes into the poorer family home.

There are 5 or 6 parts to the book, and 15-20 years between parts. Figuring out what was going on at the start of every new part was great fun.
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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Alan Dorfman VINE VOICE on October 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have a mixed history with Alan Hollinghurst's previous novels. His first book, "The Swimming Pool Library," is quite simply my favorite novel. At the other end of the spectrum, his most recent book, "The Line Of Beauty," I found to be a crushing disappointment. I apparently was in the minority opinion on that inasmuch as the novel won the Man Booker Award. The other novels fall somewhere in between.

"The Stranger's Child" is an example of a brilliant writer working at the top of his form, a multi-generational saga beginning before the first World War and ending in the late 1960s. I say "ending" advisedly inasmuch as part of the success of the novel is that the reader is left with the understanding that the story specifically, and life in general goes on beyond the final page.

A writer of stunningly descriptive prose, Mr. Hollinghurst has created a nearly overabundance of three-dimensional characters, the importance to the narrative of which is not always necessarily apparent. Real people brilliantly brought to life in both broad strokes and the tiniest details. All in service of a semi-linear story, the plot of which is less important than the concepts the writer wants to convey.

If you want a description of the plot you can look elsewhere in this listing. Among other things, "The Stranger's Child" is about the physical and emotional evolution of England as a country and as a people from the Victorian age to the pre-AIDS present. It is about changing nature of families and the secrets they contain. It is about emergence of homosexuality from the silent, glass closet into the light of a more enlightened age where same-sex love is now allowed to speak its name.

Ultimately "The Stranger's Child" is about memoir, biography and, by extension, reality itself.
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49 of 59 people found the following review helpful By terickson on December 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I really wanted to love this book, and part 1 delivered. It was mysterious, unpredictable, beautifully written. But parts 2 and 3 felt like another writer took over and from then the book failed to fly and sing -- it was just a tough slog through the mud. I'm sorry to say it was so bad I put the book down in the middle of Part 3 because I was just too bored to go on. I didn't care about any of the characters by that point. The problem is, the author kills off or disappears the most interesting characters in the book, and he has an annoying habit of stopping the story just when relationships are STARTING to get interesting. And never picks up where he leaves off. There are too many other good books to read, I just called it a day on this one, and to me it's better to just stop at Part 1 and consider it a great little novella.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Roseserious on August 20, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This novel starts as an English family saga in the style of Waugh, Powell or Mitford. The Valances are a gifted, eccentric ruling-class family with plenty of personal secrets.
Halfway through, Hollinghurst suddenly veers onto a completely different narrative track, introducing a man from an altogether different social background who will become the family's biographer. This change of focus is disconcerting, to say the least. Is it simply inept plotting, or is the author deliberately playing with his readers?
I found it worth sticking with Hollinghurst as he turned an apparently conventional social novel into a wonderful dissection of the elements of modern biography: the power plays between subject and researcher, the dangerous and swampy territory of 'fact', the existential crisis involved in becoming a biographer. A clever, rewarding read, even if it's not quite what you expect at the start.
If you liked Ian McEwan's Atonement, you might enjoy this.
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