She'd been lying in the hammock reading poetry for over an hour. It wasn't easy; she was thinking all the while about George coming back with Cecil, and she kept sliding down, in small half-willing surrenders, till she was in a heap, with the book held tiringly above her face. Now the light was going, and the words began to hide among themselves on the page. She wanted to get a look at Cecil, to drink him in for a minute before he saw her, and was introduced, and asked her what she was reading. But he must have missed his train, or at least his connection: she saw him pacing the long platform at Harrow and Wealdstone, and rather regretting he'd come. Five minutes later, as the sunset sky turned pink above the rockery, it began to seem possible that something worse had happened. With sudden grave excitement she pictured the arrival of a telegram, and the news being passed round; imagined weeping pretty wildly; then saw herself describing the occasion to someone, many years later, though still without quite deciding what the news had been.
The Stranger's Child, Alan Hollinghurst's latest novel, is a pretty long book. (Close to 600 pages.) My copy is a present given by my older brother, Francis, who took the trouble of finding the Waterstones nearest his hotel in Belfast, where he'd gone for a couple of weeks. From his room he had a view of the headquarters of an entirely different H & W: Harland and Wolff, that is, or the company that built Titanic. I was going to ask for a Tóibín, and I was going to demand that it be autographed, with a dedication, that Francis fly south and find out where this favorite writer must be living, and perhaps, on my behalf, remind Tóibín about an E-mail correspondence that had been struck three or four years ago, but of course this was all a dumb fantasy. I was simply jealous of his trip: when was anyone ever going to send me to Belfast? But Francis has a kind heart. He does not care who the finer writer is; he is only after bringing something nice back to a younger brother, and making me giddy with delight, which is exactly what he did, since The Stranger's Child, as demonstrated by its absolutely beautiful first paragraph, is as elegant a novel as any.