To nobody’s surprise, The Stranger’s Child stayed good until the very end. It also had some cards up its sleeve until that point as well, which isn’t necessarily a thing that I go for (I’m not reading Encyclopedia Brown, am I) but in this case it underscores something important about the book, and (in my experience) about Hollinghurst.
Unlike The Stranger’s Child, I’ll just come right out and tell you what I’m on about: the book is all about absences. Not content to have gaps in the narrative which inquisitive characters fill in during subsequent pages, the missing elements are promoted to full-blown lacunae, about which the characters struggle between themselves. Because this is the substance rather than a parlor trick, it’s actually deeply satisfying.
Because if its subject (hidden artifacts leading to a revised literary biography for a fake poet), I couldn’t help but be reminded of Possession. This is sort of amusing to me, as I first read Possession for the class in which I also read The Swimming Pool Library.