Monday, October 24, 2011

Booker Prize winner Alan Hollinghurst reads from his new novel at Outwrite

Posted By on Mon, Oct 24, 2011 at 2:31 PM

Novelist Alan Hollinghurst will read from and sign his new novel The Strangers Child at Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse on Wednesday, October 26, at 7:30 pm.
  • Robert Taylor
  • Novelist Alan Hollinghurst will read from and sign his new novel "The Stranger's Child" at Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse on Wednesday, October 26, at 7:30 pm.
It's odd to hear a writer describe one of the world's most prestigious literary prizes as “the enemy.” But novelist Alan Hollinghurst, who won the Man Booker Prize for his 2004 novel The Line of Beauty, speaks about that honor in the same way he speaks about many other things: with a self-deprecating, wry, and wary judgment. “For a while it really did become the enemy,” he says. “I traveled and spoke about the book until I was almost sick of the thought of it.”

Although Hollinghurst had developed a strong reputation and a growing readership with his first three novels, the 2004 prize for his fourth brought the writer a level of attention and popular acclaim he was unaccustomed to. He'd originally had trouble even finding a publisher for his first novel The Swimming Pool Library and had often been quarantined with the label “gay writer.” The new and sudden mainstream acclaim was both welcome encouragement and unwelcome distraction, he says.

In spite of his mixed feelings about the sudden attention and exhausting speaking and touring schedule the Booker brought, Hollinghurst says that he's actually looking forward to his upcoming five-city American tour to promote his latest novel The Stranger's Child, his first book in the seven years since The Line of Beauty. The tour begins with a stop in Atlanta at Outwrite Books on Wednesday, October 26, at 7:30 pm. “It's still wonderful to step out from behind the desk every now and again and meet the readers face-to-face,” he says. “I quite enjoy it.”

The Stranger's Child concerns the history of a poet who dies in the First World War, after which his past is first buried and then uncovered by family, acquaintances, and biographers. “I wanted to write a novel about the Great War without the war in it,” Hollinghurst explains, “to examine a group of characters before the war and then meet them again afterwords to examine the effect.” The novel, originally conceived in two sections, eventually became five parts, one before the war and four parts after as biographers, family members, and acquaintances piece together and cling to the memories and written traces of the man as time passes. Like his other novels, the book examines “the hidden vein of gay history,” as Hollinghurst refers to it.

“There's a lot of easy nostalgia and fantasy about the past in England at the moment,” Hollinghurst says, clearly uncomfortable with the possibility of his novel being marketed in the Downton Abbey niche: like several of his earlier works, The Stranger's Child shows a fascination for English country houses, their histories and fates. Hollinghurst originally wanted to become an architect; he says he is now designing and living in interesting houses in another way. But in the end, The Stranger's Child is more anti-nostalgia than nostalgia, dealing with the complications of the past and the impossibility of its full understanding or recovery. “It's a book about time and its workings, and memory and its failings,” he says.

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