Love Is a Battlefield
Alan Hollinghurst's new novel traces the legacy of a fictive World War I poet
The Stranger's Child
by Alan Hollinghurst
$27.95 List Price
In Alan Hollinghurst’s captivating 1988 debut, The Swimming-Pool Library, the footloose young aristocrat and would-be biographer William Beckwith is consoled by a friend after he learns of a devastating chapter in his family’s history. “Isn’t there a kind of blind spot . . . for that period just before one was born? One knows about the Second World War, one knows about Suez, I suppose, but what people were actually getting up to in those years . . . There’s an empty, motiveless space until one appears on the scene.” Blind spots—familial, sexual, national—have fascinated Hollinghurst in all his work, and few have gone after them with such a surfeit of exacting irony and sinuous prose.
Hollinghurst’s characters are often plunked down on the edge of an era just as it slips into the past, partially aware that they are witnesses to a moment that is disappearing in front of them: His 2004 Booker Prize–winning The Line of Beauty captures the wane of the Thatcher ’80s, and The Swimming-Pool Library pictures gay life in London of 1983, during the “last summer of its kind,” before the wholesale devastation wrought by AIDS. The Stranger’s Child, the author’s fifth novel and his first in seven years, finds Hollinghurst in new historical territory, away from the familiar precincts of the recent past and reaching further back to an England that predates his birth. Yet the good-bye-to-all-that melancholia that tints his earlier work hangs over this sprawling, decades-hopping book from its opening section, which takes place in the summer before Britain mobilized for the First World War.