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The Stranger's Child

by Alan Hollinghurst

THE STRANGER’S CHILD is a big book, 364 pages, dealing with a big subject – the metamorphosis of English society over the past century. It is difficult to summarise the plot as the book is written in a series of episodes in which minor characters from one part become prominent in another, while a major player will disappear only to re-emerge, dead, a hundred pages later. Much of the significant action occurs off-stage and Hollinghurst brings the reader up-to-date in wonderful set-pieces. During dinner parties, country house weekends and funerals, he puts a microscope to a small cross-section of society, exploring the lives of people whose otherwise insignificant exchanges reveal fundamental patterns of changing attitudes and values. At the same time, the story of a Victorian country house, Corley Court, becomes emblematic of seismic shifts in taste, fortunes and the class system since the early twentieth century.

Although in some ways a less satisfying read than his other novels - the changing focus on characters lessens our interest in them – Hollinghurst compensates with the sheer brilliance of his writing. No one writes quite like him: the effortless elegance of his sentences; the telling detail; the intricate layering; and the graphic sex scenes. Anyone who enjoys his beautiful prose style will be pleased with his latest novel but those looking for titillation will be disappointed since most of the love action is left to the reader’s imagination.

Published by Picador, 364pp.

Clare Chandler

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