It's been seven years since Alan Hollinghurst's superb last novel, the Booker Prize-winning The Line of Beauty, a Jamesian bildungsroman about Thatcher-era booms and busts and the devastation of AIDS. His even more ambitious new novel, The Stranger's Child (Knopf), is an approachably erudite survey of real and imaginary English literary and gay culture spanning from the eve of the Great War to 2008. It revolves around Cecil Valance, a (fictional) minor poet, aristocrat, and charismatic bisexual who was killed in WWI and whose work—about the war or colored by it—became a great posthumous success. The book is told in five parts, beginning with Valance, his family, and his sometimes secret lovers, moving through the decades as those associates age and are joined by biographers and others interested in reassessing Valance's legacy and uncovering his sexuality. The poet himself isn't terribly fascinating, and the book's first third is slow in spots, but things pick up considerably as Hollinghurst turns his attention to the shy, complex Valance fan Paul Bryant, and the many-angled novel starts to bear richer fruit. This is definitely one of the more noteworthy local readings of the year.
Thu., Oct. 27, 7:30 p.m., 2011