Lovers of Hollinghurst’s writing have been waiting a long time for the end of June 2011 and the publication of his new novel. In fact, the wait has been seven years, but now we know that it was worth it. As we sit with the book in our hands, the critics start penning their reactions. Here are some extracts from the first:
Marvellously acute in its attention to idioms and idiosyncrasies, 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. – The Times
In Hollinghurst’s eagerly awaited new novel we see that if history is written by the winners, biography belongs to the survivors. There are fewer fireworks than in the author’s earlier books, sex happens mainly off the page and description is rationed, the whole more controlled. Line by line writing is as delightful as ever. A tremendously readable and engrossing book. – The Daily Mail
He outranks so far the Amises, Rushdies and McEwans of this world in that he would already be classed as the greatest writer of his generation if he could just broaden his interests beyond writing about what it is like to be gay.
He has proven over and over again that he can write superb novels about homosexuality but this is never going to tap into the universality that truly great writers achieve.
By all means have gay central characters but give them concerns that strike a chord with everyone. The Stranger’s Child so nearly achieves that. – The Daily Express
The result is a polished and often beautiful novel, tough-minded yet elegiac, that confirms Hollinghurst’s place at the beating heart of contemporary English lit. – The Australian
Throughout his career as a novelist, one of Hollinghurst’s preoccupations has been to puncture this a historical loneliness, to bring the homosexual tradition in English culture out of the shadows. Yet in this affecting, erudite novel, he transcends what might have been a purely backward-looking project, a filling in of the gay blanks. 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. In the present day, when the immediacy of a young man reciting Tennyson has been replaced by a website with audio clips mouthed by an animated Tennyson avatar, this tradition persists, against the odds. – The Guardian
Hollinghurst is essentially a writer of the long moment and of the extended set-piece: the party, the country house weekend, the dinner party. If he has a weakness it is a tendency to over-describe; to seek to convey each and every subtle shift in mood, tone, inflection and nuance. The overall effect is charming and you admire the artistry but it can also be enervating – sometimes you wish that things were more slipshod, rough and urgent in this fictional world, a little less perfect and sumptuously poised. – The Financial Times
The marriages, births and deaths are mostly off-stage, the sex toned down, and the narrative largely carried by dialogue, much of it so freighted with irony as to be a delight in itself. Musical performances reveal character (another Forsterian hallmark), but the novel’s chief pleasure is itself akin to music: characters and details concerning life and love move in and out of focus to reveal unexpected discords and harmonies. The drawback is that, largely deprived of Hollinghurst’s gorgeous descriptive voice, Daphne is not as well-drawn as The Line of Beauty’s Catherine Fedden, and Cecil is a figure of indifference compared with The Line of Beauty’s agonised Nick Guest. Aesthetically, The Stranger’s Child is probably the best novel this year so far, but it fails to move Hollinghurst on to the next level. A writer of this order of intelligence, perceptiveness, skill and sensibility could and should become not just an outstanding contemporary writer, but a great one. – The Independent
Then there is the suspicion, often directed at English writers (though Irish writers seem to get away with it), that it is somehow not terribly clever to write terribly well. (Tennyson, a hovering presence in The Stranger’s Child, came in for a dose of this.) Hollinghurst’s writing isn’t antiquarian, even if its density and attentiveness, no less than the book’s love-in-great-houses theme, evoke several past avatars.
The scruples listed above make me shy of describing it as “musical”, though there is something symphonic about its 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 (mutatis mutandis) the anguished exquisites of Michelangelo Antonioni. – The Telegraph
The silky precision of its prose — ‘splintering a brazil nut in the silver jaws of the nutcracker’, Hollinghurst writes at one point — is matched by the mimetic completeness of its fictional world. This is an exercise in realism of a dazzlingly high order: it really does seem to be observed rather than imagined. The touches of extraneous detail are unobtrusive, concrete and exact…
… Rather than use its scale to produce the weightless afflatus of a family saga, The Stranger’s Child captures as well as anything I’ve read the particular gravity of time passing, and the irrecoverable losses it brings with it. It is an extraordinary achievement. – The Spectator