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What the press thinks of Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child

Wednesday, 06 July 2011

Below is a sample of the reviews and not a comprehensive list.

‘A new Hollinghurst novel is always a great literary event.  And his latest could be his greatest yet’ …‘History is more likely to see Hollinghurst for what he is – not a gay writer, but a great writer’ Observer (read it here)

 ‘Impossible as it is to circumnavigate its myriad achievements in a brief review, The Stranger's Child is stunningly easy to commend. It is a rare thing to read a novel buoyed up by the certainty that it will stand among the year's best, but rarer still to become confident of its value in decades to come. I would compare the novel to Middlemarch, for its precision, pathos (a less expected quality, perhaps) and perfect phrasing, were Eliot not so underappreciated as a comic writer today. But let us set comparisons aside. The Stranger's Child is a remarkable, unmissable achievement, written with the calm authority of an author who could turn his literary gifts to just about anything. As for the mercurial title, readers will find much, but characteristically not all, revealed by the closing pages. One leaves the novel with a sense of the truly extraordinary’  Independent (read it here)

‘With his balance of surface glitter and steely precision, irony and deep seriousness, Alan Hollinghurst is usually seen as an heir to Henry James… Hollinghurst has a strong, perhaps unassailable claim to be the best English novelist working today.  He offers surely the best available example of novelistic ambition squared with the highest aesthetic standards.  Where so many fiction writers seem stylish but austere, or full of life but messy, Hollinghurst has his cake and eats it. His novels cover high life and low life, culture and instinct, jokes and opera, with equal confidence. He can follow the consciousness of an individual in amazing detail, as well as subtly dramatising the wider social and historical currents… His best books are beautiful at the level of the sentence and impressive at the levels of character, incident and plot; they manage to be nearly perfect and great fun at the same time… The Stranger's Child has the same qualities as his previous novels. It is elegant, seductive and extremely enjoyable to read, and peppered with astute, apparently casual noticings… As ever, Hollinghurst's set-piece parties are stunning… The Stranger's Child will no doubt be one of the best novels published this year’  Book of the Week, Guardian (read it here)

Guardian ‘Weekend’ magazine’s lead feature interview was a profile of Alan; you can read it in full here.

The Guardian compiled a list of the 5 best fiction holiday books which included The Stranger’s Child.

‘Brilliantly written, intricate and wide-reaching… An almost century-long cavalcade of changing social, sexual and cultural attitudes, exhibited in sensuously imagined scenes and scrutinized with ironic wit… Marvellously acute in its attention to idioms and idiosyncracies, tone and body language, psychological and emotional nuances, the book gives intensely credible life to its swarm of characters… Masterly in its narrative sweep, richly textured prose and imaginative flair and depth, this novel about an increasingly threadbare literary reputation enormously enhances Hollinghurst’s own.  With The Stranger’s Child, an already remarkable talent unfurls into something spectacular’  Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

‘Highly entertaining and, as always with Hollinghurst, the dialogue is immaculate and the characterization first class… Every Hollinghurst novel is a cause for celebration, and this spacious, elegant satire is no exception’  David Robson, Sunday Telegraph (read it here)

‘[Hollinghurst’s] substantial new novel… sumptuously retelling a familiar narrative of English decline through a series of friendships and encounters which form a sort of daisy chain of erotic and literary influence... In this affecting, erudite novel, he transcends what might have been a purely backward-looking project. It is the signal achievement of The Stranger’s Child to show that, despite the silence in which relationships like that of Cecil and George were shrouded, their influence has echoed on through the years, as an unconscious pattern for other friendships and love affairs’  Hari Kunzru, Observer (read it here)

The Stranger’s Child feels like the kind of novel that Forster might have written had he continued [writing fiction]… Hollinghurst [is] a masterly stylist… Aesthetically, The Stranger’s Child is probably the best novel this year so far…Intelligence, perceptiveness, skill and sensibility’  Amanda Craig, Independent on Sunday (read it here)

From the Daily Telegraph’s Summer Reading picks:

‘I’ll definitely be taking Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child, which spans several generations, no doubt in his usual impeccable prose’  James Walton

‘I’ll be packing a copy of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child.  That’s partly because he’s the finest prose stylist of his generation, but also because his writing sits so invitingly between the intellectually risky and the sexually risqué’  Robert Douglas-Fairhurst

‘I loved The Line of Beauty and The Swimming-Pool Library so I am very much looking forward to Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child, which promises to match his earlier books in both elegance of prose and acuity of psychological insight’  Michael Gove

‘One of our sharpest and most enjoyable contemporary novelists… Exhilarating deftness… The Stranger’s Child deals with profound themes memory, reputation and the passing of time, but always with a sense of comedy, and with the linked sense that comedy and tragedy are always intertwined… Quite brilliant… For some reason, [Atonement and Birdsong] tend to feel at their most authentic in the past and become more stagey as they come closer to the present.  But Hollinghurst manages the concertina effect with extraordinary assurance, and at various key points his novel has an almost mystical ability to see time past and time present merging into one… The Stranger’s Child is brilliantly inventive in the way it delivers social comedy powered by sexual passion…Its ingenuity cannot be doubted… The Stranger’s Child has a wonderfully calm assurance about it; an earned sense of self-confidence rare in modern literature.  Sir Cecil Valance’s reputation may dwindle with time, but Alan Hollinghurst’s will surely endure’  Craig Brown, ‘Book of the Week’, Mail on Sunday – 5-star review

 ‘An intricate, witty, playful meditation on what is now beginning to emerge as one of Hollinghurst’s chief concerns:  Englishness.  Comedy of manners, investigation of class, changing political and social landscape – all the reliable pleasures that his fiction offers are here in their dense, detailed richness…. Miraculously handled Hollinghurst set-pieces… It is woven with stupendous deftness, its internal assonances making a complex, comprehensive harmony… A magnificent coherence’  The Times

‘Masterful… There is a huge cleverness to the book at a structural and, as it were, managerial level.  Characters are named with an aptness which is light-footed and unswervingly accurate… Hollinghurst, as ever, is quietly brilliant about architecture, both in the specific sense of a cultural discourse about buildings, and the broader sense of how people behave in different kinds of place… there is something symphonic about [the novel’s] wholeness. There is also something filmic in the book’s enveloping embrace; not the “heritage cinema” of Merchant Ivory et al, but the more experimental, argumentative efforts of the Sixties and Seventies. I often found myself recalling Joseph Losey's version of The Go-Between, and occasionally the anguished exquisites of Michelangelo Antonioni… there’s also a lot that is purely and simply very funny’  Daily Telegraph – 4-star review

‘A showcase for bravura writing.  Such praise could be off-putting: the glitter of fine writing often elevates style over substance. Perhaps I should therefore stress straight away that The Stranger’s Child is not only written with extraordinary beauty, but is also exceptionally readable – and this even though the narrative is fragmented by chronological leaps, the characterisation disrupted by shifts in perspective.  The author’s imagination is teased by the extent to which we are strangers to each other, and the way in which the past becomes strange to the present.  His genius lies in his ability to intrigue the reader, too, suggesting the hinterland of a secret, vivid life, glimpsed out of the corner of the eye, as it were.  Hollinghurst is superbly skilled at heightening awareness of the liminal’  Standpoint magazine

‘Portraying two families and spanning the 20th century, it is ambitious, epic and satisfying.  If you loved Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, you’ll devour this.’ Elle magazine

‘Hollinghurst shows an insider’s knowledge of literary and academic life, clocking changes in social and sexual behaviour with elegant irreverence.’ Intelligent Life

‘A rollicking ride with biting wit and observant prose.  Bring it on’  Country & Town House magazine

There was a half-hour special edition of Front Row on Alan and The Stranger’s Child on Radio 4 on Friday; 30 minutes of auditory heaven.  Mark Lawson describes it as Alan’s best novel yet.  If you’d like to listen – and I would urge you to – just click here.

A long interview with Alan on Night Waves on BBC Radio 3; you can hear it here.

The novel was reviewed on the BBC Radio 2 Arts Show; Claire Armitstead said:  ‘It’s fantastic.  It’s the book that everyone in the literary world has been waiting for… He’s a brilliant stylist and he’s also really easy to read.  It’s like a champagne bath’.

The Stranger’s Child was also reviewed on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Saturday Review’.  Paul Farley said of it: ‘I absolutely loved it; I thought it was wonderful’.  Deborah Moggach said: ‘The whole book is wonderfully written’.

‘Hollinghurst writes so carefully and subversively, often with one eyebrow raised in sardonic amusement as he satirises the excesses of his mostly high-born protagonists…The Stranger’s Child is broader in scope and more generous in outlook than anything Hollinghurst has written before as well as being structurally his most ambitious work and his most restrained sexually.  What remains absolutely characteristic is the gracefulness of his sentences as he goes about his business, scrupulously scene-shaping and mood-patterning’  Jason Cowley, Financial Times

‘The range of eras and voices affords Hollinghurst ample opportunity to display an impressive mastery of prose style, and his portrait of Daphne – who begins as a doe-eyed young innocent only to age into a cantankerous old bully – is unforgettable’  Time Out

‘When it comes to keeping his fans waiting, Alan Hollinghurst has got it down to a very fine art. It’s seven itchy years since the London writer scooped the Booker Prize for The Line of Beauty and this resultant beefy doorstopper proves that he hasn’t been whiling away those many months in prevaricating fashion…. Hollinghurst has a finger on the pulse of the awkward secrets and dark memories which keep families connected to one another’  The List

Interviews and features:

Full-page interview in the Financial Times (which you can read here)

3,000-word, double-page spread extract in the Daily Telegraph (read here)

Double-page spread in Metro – ‘The Big Interview’ (read here)

4-page interview in Attitude magazine

Oh, and that badge of honour, and mark of Book of the Moment:  John Crace’s ‘Digested Read’ in the Guardian. (read here)


Intrigued? You can listen to an extract from the novel here

Wednesday, 06 July 2011 by Rosanna Boscawen with 0 comments


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