This novel is a valiant attempt to make decades of gossip, poetry, politics, and literary secrets seem of absorbing interest. The sentences are constructed with care, and many attempts are made at humour. Conflict between the characters is created and countless social engagements are detailed.
However, the work fails to attain the heights reached by ‘The Line of Beauty.’ It lacks the political bite of that sharper piece of fiction. The numerous poetic references in this novel are no substitute for the satire of its predecessor. Tennyson is not a poet who has worn particularly well since the arrival of modernism. Hollinghurst drags the great man in at the start and at the end, but this does neither of them many favours. The lack of engagement with ordinary people in ‘The Stranger’s Child’ is not compensated for by an impressive familiarity with verse. The reference to Trollope in ‘The Line of Beauty’ has more political resonance than the reference to Brooke in ‘The Stranger’s Child.’
Furthermore, the depictions of women in ‘The Stranger’s Child’ are not particularly impressive. They lack the depth of some of the other characters- perhaps there is something slightly misogynistic and patriarchal behind the lines of this odd and excessively English book. Nevertheless, there are many comforts provided to the reader along the long journey. It is a novel that can be enjoyed against one’s better judgement- a dubious pleasure in dubious times.