February 3, 2012

Required Reading: THE STRANGER'S CHILD

One of my favorite contemporary novelists is British author Allan Hollinghurst.  Not only are his books exquisitely well-written (the last one garnered the Mann-Booker Prize in 2005) but they usually focus on gay characters in truly novel ways.

His latest book, THE STRANGER'S CHILD, is an epic 400-plus page look at a British family told over the course of nearly a hundred years in five distinct sections.  At the center of the book is a young Cambridge poet Cecil Valance, who has affairs with men, women and it seems just about anyone he may come into contact with.  What's most interesting about the book is how it looks at Cecil indirectly from varying perspectives, including that of his former girlfriend, lover, biographer, grand neice, etc. creating a curious mosaic of this magnetic figure and the way his unusual life affected those around him for decades to come.

The book is something of a challenging read at first in that the jumps between each section take some getting used to.  The reader is dropped into an entirely different set of circumstances and central characters which take some sorting out.  I half-wish that I had created a family tree for all the relations that come into play.  But as each section adds a new piece to the Valance family puzzle, the book grows more and more intriguing as it begins to delve into the heart of the family's secrets.

THE STRANGER'S CHILD is easily one of the best books I have read in quite some time and I can strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a great, British old-school style read. It has the qualities of a book like BRIDESHEAD and MAURICE, with a touch of the TV show DOWNTON ABBEY thrown in as well.  Surely this will end up on the BBC as a mini-series, as his last book THE LINE OF BEAUTY did (which curiously stars Dan Stevens of DOWTON). Hopefully, on this one, they will do a better job and have an appropriate budget for this epic tale of secrets and lies.

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