Wrapping up reading of The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst:

As I read towards the last page of Child, which is page 564 in the galley, I found myself racing, anxious for a sense of completion.

Hollinghurst talks about the pleasure in perceived connections. Try this on for size: “Daphne’s second husband’s half-sister married my father’s elder brother.”…”So Daphne is my step-aunt by marriage”.

One key character in the latter half of the book is not related to anyone else. That wonderful piece of authorial bravado from the opening of section three, where about twelve new characters are introduced in the first two pages…well only one of those characters is salient. The others are a sort of fanfare of characters that showcase him.

In this part of the story we have reached the 1960’s. We will know when we have reached our own time when a character at a reading checks their IPhone.

I don’t know what Alan Hollinghurst is like at a party but I imagine that he owns the room. Because as a writer, he owns the room. There’s another great set piece towards the end, a memorial reading for one of the characters.  It’s as if you went to a party and took a photo. And in the photo you could draw out a sense of everyone who was there. Something you couldn’t do in the rush and buzz of the actual event. Alan can do that with his literature

In The Stranger’s Childit’s as if Alan Hollinghurst was in possession of a pile of faded rose petals, the kind you would keep in an old book as a memento, and with his writer’s pride AH was going to impossibly make time reverse and reassemble the bloom from its faded parts.

It’s very difficult to describe the splendid appetite for books that The Stranger’s Child engenders. H mentions James’ Aspern Papers. It’s as if Hollinghurst wants to write an updated Aspern Papers, saying the things in his book that Henry James could never say, not even to himself. All the gay interest stuff is sort of submerged during the bulk of the novel. But when the story reaches the London that has the IPhone, it’s as if the bathysphere of gay life has suddenly breached the surface.

It’s a great mystery story, creating the myth of a lost gay tradition in literature. But it’s a also a novel that cherishes the perceived connections of the whole human family, gay or straight.

Buried in the riverbed of this story like Wagner’s Rhinegold is the (perhaps) lost story of England’s World War I poets. In that connection, I recommend further reading: The Poetry of Rupert Brooke, Paul Fussell’s distinguished book, The Great War and Modern Memory and the historical works on World War I and its surrounding era, The Guns of August and the essays of The Proud Towerby Barbara W. Tuchman.

The music of the infamous W seeps through The Stranger’s Child. You know the legend of the Rhinegold is that it’s pure and uncorrupted as long as it stays buried in the riverbed but it’s false and craven if it’s ever dug up.

Maybe that’s how a society can feel about its literature. But the glittering quest for our cherished literature, for what we hold and treasure and for what has slipped away from us and been lost, has never been told better than it is here. Due in October, boys and girls, from Alfred A. Knopf.