I was really enjoying this book up to about midway and then it just seemed like nothing was really happening. There are too many parties, too many remembrances, too many side-wise glances. And everything is so unsure – it’s all about “almost,” and “somewhat.”
Part 1 is mostly the reality of a poet who was celebrated posthumously after WWI and it’s about his friends – male, female, superior and servant. Part 2 is the impact of the loss of him to his mother and friends, how his slim oeuvre of poetry is discovered and treasured by all of England. Part 3 a new budding romance between new characters, but how many times can people blush and be embarrassed? Eventually we get to 90 years after the poet’s reality and what has changed (or more pointedly, what’s not changed?)
Hollinghurst is an excellent stylist but “as though,” and “as if (to)” and some other metaphorical type phrases are perhaps a bit overdone. Still, it often works quite well to get to the explicit heart of something without actually stabbing it. The use of opposites is another technique which manages to describe someone’s feelings exactly. Perhaps the use of both methods are deliberate because gays themselves are “as though” or “opposite”? To wit:
“He felt simultaneously important and completely insignificant.”
“Paul felt he should seem appreciative but not nosey, oddly the opposite of the case.”
p 314 –
And “The Stranger’s Child” is very, very much about feelings as well as the issue of gay poets in WWI England and the women in their lives and the way memory is not alone in creating new personalities for them after they die so tragically. The media pushes the envelope – the media creates the “historical” figure of our “dearly departed” as much as memory. And then we have today – no boundaries but what have we lost?
About 2/3rds of the way through I got caught up in the story as something was really happening then and there! Suspense was building around something other than will they or won’t they have an off-text affair and how will she tell this to the media? How will the image of our dear nationally beloved poet change over time? How much truth is revealed and how much is pure speculation?
Oh I don’t know – it’s a very well written novel about an engaging period. There’s a very sophisticated gloss to the style, but it got boring in places. Fortunately I kept reading because the last third is a kick.