The English Country House in the Contemporary Novel
CHAPTER EIGHT: “The worrying air of cliché and unreality”: Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child
Chapter Eight“The worrying air of cliché and unreality”: Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child
In contrast to the playful, contemporary setting of Litt’s book, Alan Hollinghurst’s 2011 novel The Stranger’s Child opens with a nostalgic look into the past and promises a traditional narrative of a “sumptuously furnished ‘country house novel’” (Tonkin). Rich in intertextual echoes, “beautifully written, ambitious in its scope and structure, confident in its execution” (Parker P), it was greeted almost unanimously as a literary masterpiece. With a nearly century-long temporal sweep, reaching back to 1913 and forward to 2008, the novel was praised for its investigation of “changing social, sexual and cultural attitudes” (Kemp) and masterful storytelling on a par with “the best Victorian novels“ (Banville). Yet the book’s purportedly traditional form and seemingly familiar setting are deceptive. Hollinghurst’s reconstruction of the past is far less traditional than the formally unobtrusive narrative promises, his engagement with the country-house tradition more complex than the nostalgic, slow-paced opening might suggest.
The first part of the novel, entitled “Two Acres” and consisting of twelve sections focalized by different characters, is set on a long country weekend in the late June of 1913. The languid, summer days make the dramatic centre of the narrative; they will be revisited, recollected, interpreted and misinterpreted by different characters in the subsequent parts of the novel that cover almost a century. Hollinghurst recreates the pre-war class-conscious England and traces the changes that come after the First and Second World Wars...
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