In 1912 youthful poet Cecil Valance spends a weekend at the family home of his close friend George Sawle. It is a weekend that is destined to become a minor footnote of literary history when a poem is dedicated to Daphne the teenage daughter of the house, a poem that takes on a life of its own after the poet’s death in the Great War and his posthumous literary fame as a ‘War Poet’ in the mode of Rupert Brooke.
The Stranger’s Child explores the question of what we can ever really know about other people, whether old friends and acquaintances, family members or a poet who died a hundred years ago. We have bits and pieces of information, guesses, gossip, memories but often the most crucial parts of the jigsaw may be missing.
Throughout the book, we are tantalised over the course of a century with glimpses into the lives of characters who all have some connection with the War Poet Cecil Valance, whether they are concealing or trying to uncover his secrets. Some characters know some of the truth and choose to keep it private, others spend their lives in vain quest to ferret out ‘what really happened’.
Generally a vivid, absorbing read, bringing its several protagonists briefly but very vividly to life in lightening flashes, but in the end, it almost worked too well and I ended by feeling almost over-teased and cheated of simple narrative satisfaction – who were any of those people really?