Alan Hollinghurst impressed me with his candour at the 2005 Oxford Literary Festival. First, there was his confession that he was a lazy writer who managed only 200 words a day. Second, he admitted that a full year after finishing the book he was there to talk about — the Booker Prize winner The Line of Beauty — he still hadn’t a clue what his next novel would be about.

Well, there was a successor, eventually. It turned out to be The Stranger’s Child (Picador, £20), which I reviewed enthusiastically last week. It deserves to be another Booker winner. Alan (somehow ‘Mr Hollinghurst’ doesn’t seem right) was back in Oxford on Monday for a talk about it arranged at the Town Hall by Waterstone’s. And again he was refreshingly candid. Topographical research, for instance, was boring, he told us. So he did a bare minimum.

Inspiration for the book had struck not long after the Lit Fest talk.

“I thought I would write a set of short stories. I wrote one, and then I wrote some more. They connected up with each other. I resolved this by writing a novel in five episodes. It was a way of writing a long book without a lot of the stuff I find rather tedious.”

Reviewers, including me, have noted how remarkably accurate a reflection of life the novel provides. This was a deliberate aim, he said, with the book’s omissions and discontinuities having a parallel in “the blanks and mysteries” of human existence.

The Stranger’s Child is one of those novels — I always enjoy them — where you read a dozen or so pages, think you have worked out precisely what has been happening and then find to your delight that you were right.

See if you don’t agree.