The Stranger’s Child: War Books [4/15]
by Charlotte Reads Classics
I had been eagerly anticipating The Stranger’s Child and read it as soon as it came out in paperback. (Love the cover.) I’ve classified it as a war book for this reading project, although it isn’t a war book in the sense that my three previous books are. The story begins just before WWI and jumps forward in time. It is a novel about how history and family stories change over generations, and shows how times changed because of the war.
For the sake of clarity, the story is split up like this:
- Part One: 1913 The main characters Daphne, George, and Cecil Valance
- Part Two: 1920s Cecil is a war poet, the family live in a house called Corley
- Part Three: 1960s/1970s Corley is a boarding school collecting items for a ‘museum’
- Part Four: 1980s Characters from Part Three research a biography about the Valances
- Part Five: 2008 Strangers are brought together for a conference/memorial
The first part of the book was definitely my favourite – I can’t get enough of this era at the moment! The way Hollinghurst writes about these grand country houses and bright young people is romanticised without being unreal, like nostalgia about childhood. It was a very atmospheric beginning to the book which would have been worth reading even if the rest of the book had been terrible (which it wasn’t). A frustrating, but unavoidable outcome of this book forever jumping forward in time is that you get really attached to characters who are dead in the next section and unfortunately the characters got less and less like-able down the generations.
I thought the different attitudes to the romantic relationship between Cecil and George were well written: Their relationship is obviously hidden at the time, but later revealed by the biographer. The differing reactions between family members and critics were amusing because everyone seemed to have their own agenda for their opinions, rather than the discovery of truth. An unavoidable aspect of humanity, really!
Reading this like a war book, I suppose the message would be that WWI stopped people in their tracks. The men who survived and the women at home carried on with lives when the war was over, but on a slightly different course. It was very much as though they sidestepped onto a path parallel to where they had gone if the war hadn’t happened. An interesting thought created by this book is that the people who are revered and celebrated for their deeds during the war can only have their stories told by other people. History is singing with lost voices.
Now you have me adding another ‘war book’ to my wish list! I can’t get enough of the pre-WW1 era either. The plot description and you thoughts make this sound like a book I would enjoy… plus I love the cover, too.
Slowly corrupting your reading list with war books 🙂 This is a good one, the beginning part especially has an Edwardian country house vibe that really appealed to me.
I read and reviewed this last year, and enjoyed it. I’m a fan of Hollinghurst, although I didn’t think this was his strongest to date. Beautiful subtleties though, and a poignant message.
Yes thats a great way to describe it, subtle and poignant. I haven’t read any of his other books so I don’t know how it compares, which of his is your favourite?
I don’t normally like contemporary “literary” fiction but Hollinghurst said what there was left to be said. Perhaps the country-house treatment works after all.
I read Part 1 of the book (and some of Part 2) and what struck me was the similarity between Cecil and George and Tennyson’s friendship with Arthur Hallam. (Except less talented than the two young Victorians). Hallam was engaged to Tennyson’s sister Emily, as Cecil is to George’s sister Daphne. And one very telling quote says it: Cecil compared George to a dryad.
I read Tennyson’s biography and it’s stated that on meeting his future wife, Tennyson said to her, “Are you a naiad or a dryad or what are you?” Coincidence?
Thank you for your comment – I would never have picked up on this reference and it adds a completely new layer to the story.
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