Saturday, November 05, 2011

A Beautifully Told Tale of English Manners and Intrigue - Review of "The Stranger's Child" by Alan Hollinghurst

I love discovering for the first time authors who know how to wield the English language as a paintbrush. So I was thrilled to be introduced to Alan Hollinghurst, winner of the Man Booker Prize for "The Line of Beauty," who now offers up "The Stranger's Child." I loved the book.

One the reasons I so enjoy reading Dickens is that his place descriptions and vividly drawn characters pull me instantly into another world and an other time. Hollinghurst does the same thing with his latest novel. He clearly has been influenced by the best writing of E.M. Forster (he quotes Forster in the opening epigraph of one of the book's chapters). The mix of English countryside, convoluted plot, sexual intrigue and ambiguity, eccentric characters - "stylish but not fashionable" - made me feel as if this story would have made a wonderful Merchant-Ivory film. Throw in an odd vicar or two, and I might have felt I had been transported back to Tunbridge Wells. The feel of the story also is reminiscent of a touch of "Gosford Park" and "Upstairs/Downstairs." Much of the action takes place on two estates - "Two Acres" and the more grand and grotesquely Victorian "Corley Court." The narrative spans several generations of two families whose lives and loves are intertwined in a dizzying array of relationships and assignations. At the core of the story, an ambitious biographer digs beneath the surface to learn the truth about Cecil Valance, a young poet who was killed in France in The Great War.

The story is beautifully and lovingly told, while the author dips his satirical pen in the inkwell of British mannerisms and classism. He has whet my appetite to want to discover the others novels he has already published.



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