Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst

Covering a span of nearly one hundred years, The Stranger's Child is divided into five sections. After each section, the story leaps ahead twenty to thirty years. Because all the important events  (wars, marriages, divorces, births, deaths) occur in the years between sections, the reader must glean the pertinent facts of the story from what is said about characters and events (often  minor) from previous chapters. Careful reading is required.

In 1913, a young Cambridge student brings a friend to visit his family home. Both George Sawle and his teenage sister Daphne are infatuated with the aristocratic visitor, Cecil Valance. When Daphne asks Cecil to write in her autograph book, he responds with a pages-long poem, “Two Acres,” a paean to the Sawle’s middle-class home. After Cecil is killed in France while serving in the army during The Great War, the poet and the poem become a beloved part of the British culture. Interest in Cecil’s life and work waxes and wanes into the 21st century, but lost and destroyed documents, family efforts at privacy, disingenuous statements and outright lies cloud his story for future generations.  Fans of Atonement and readers going through Downton Abbey withdrawal will love this one!