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Words of a Bibliophile

"It's only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away." —Bee Gees

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst

The Stranger's Child - Alan Hollinghurst

The Stranger's Child is divided into five parts taking place in different eras spanning over a century. It concerns itself with the mystery surrounding the life of Cecil Valance, a young poet whose life was cut short in World War I but who was made famous posthumously by his poem "Two Acres". For whom the poem was actually written, the relationship between Valance and his college friend George Sawle and George's sister Daphne, and the secrets and entanglements between the Sawles and the Valances and their descendants become topics of interest for a literary biographer decades later.

At first I thought this novel would be similar to Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited with its LGBT theme, but apart from the English setting and time period and the relationship between the three central characters, the two books are quite different. For one thing, I enjoyed this less than Brideshead. I felt Hollinghurst has a tendency to tell how characters feel rather than show it. Moreover, the characters themselves are not really appealing, and some of them are even rather annoying. It took me a long time to finish the book because it's not really a page turner; nothing too exciting happens apart from a few surprise revelations. Nevertheless, it offers some interesting things to think about and discuss, including how the same events are perceived differently by different people with different knowledge and expectations, how a biography may never fully capture the depth and complexity of a person's life, and how memories, worn by use, become more and more unreliable as the years go by.

"He was asking for memories, too young himself to know that memories were only memories of memories. It was diamond-rare to remember something fresh."