CECIL Valance dominates the plot of the novel The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst. When alive he captures the hearts of the people and when dead he is raised to the level of a celebrity, hero and martyr. A mediocre poet Valance gains in death a reputation he may not have gotten if alive. His poems assume new meanings and people associated with him are more than willing to talk about their ‘connections‘ with him. Born an aristocrat, he visits the home of his gay partner and friend George Sawle, where George’s 16-year-old sister Daphne falls in love with him, wide eyed over his persona.
Sawle’s home called ‘Two Acres’ is the theme of the poem he leaves behind, ostensibly addressed to Daphne, before going to war where he gets killed.
Written in sophisticated yet simple language with sensitive touch and a lot of emotion, the novel tells the not-so-rare story of dead men being resurrected to suit the convenience of the time. Where the ‘real’ man gets buried under the pressure of the society to say and see only the ‘right‘ things.
It is also a literary book, full of references to literature, books and writers. Tennyson is the most favourite.
Allan Hollinghurst, winner of the 2004 Man Booker Prize is no stranger to telling tales. He has authored four novels previously, almost all of them receiving critical acclaim.
(Picador, Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR)