One line from Alan Hollinghurst's new book, The Stranger's Child, is lodged in my head as I arrive at his Hampstead flat. Daphne Sawle, a key figure in the book, whom we follow from a poetically inclined 16-year-old to a tough old boot of 83, is about to be interviewed by would-be biographer Paul Bryant. "He was only pretending to be a friend," Daphne tells herself, "something no interviewer, probably, had ever been."
Bryant duly writes his book and uncovers all sorts of secrets about Daphne's tangled relationship with Cecil Valance, the Rupert Brooke figure at the centre of the novel, whose memory is fought over for decades after his death. I rather like Bryant – a "little wire-haired ratter", according to Daphne – who becomes increasingly bombastic as the book proceeds. Hollinghurst is perhaps less enamoured of his character, and of biographers who confuse art with life. I ring the bell with trepidation.