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Surrey, United Kingdom

Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Go-Between by L P Hartley

I wasn't sure about this book for about the first two chapters. It seemed to start very slowly and I even wondered if I had made a big mistake in choosing to read it. Like most book-worms, I hate wasting time reading a book I am not enjoying (when there are so many other books out there to be enjoyed) but at the same time I'm not one to give up halfway through and not finish the book. So, much to my delight, The Go-Between by L P Hartley does get into it's stride almost at the exact point you begin to question whether you want to continue reading it.

The edition I read was a Penguin Classic, with notes and a textual appendix. For all the additional information it gave me (there are a lot of classical and Shakespearian references throughout the book) I found this quite distracting - flicking to the relevant note broke the flow of reading and by then I was so caught up in the story that I resented being taken away from it. What I did like about the notes though was the extra dimensions it brought to the story. It reminded me of reading books for my A-Levels, when rather than reading the books for enjoyment you were focusing on the themes and symbolism in the story. I really enjoyed discovering these themes in a more relaxed way, without worrying about how I could discuss them in an essay and it surprised me how much you absorp without realising it - a good writer should make the themes more like an atmosphere, or a feeling, than just flashing beacons and footnotes and I really think that Hartley achieved this in The Go-Between. I utterly felt the heat of the Summer, the oppression of the weather conflicting with the (to begin with) care-free nature of Leo's stay at Brandham Hall.

The story centres around the memories of Leo of the Summer he spent at Brandham Hall - the family home of his school-friend Marcus. With Marcus struck down with measles, Leo is left to fend for himself. Marcus's sister Marian takes him under her wing and he begins to carry messages for her to the local farmer, Ted Burgess. Marian is engaged to Lord Trimingham, the local Viscount who was disfigured in the Boer War. Leo also becomes a go-between for Lord Trimingham and Marian and slowly these errands begin to reveal to him the adult world, with all it's complications and secrets. We live through Leo's triumphs at the village cricket match and after-game dinner when he sings solo, as well as his confusion and bewilderment at being thrust into a world and life he knows nothing about. Leo's worries and embarrassment are all too recognisable and throughout the story there is the feeling that as the heat rises, we are moving faster and faster towards an inevitable tragedy.

In fact, everything was so beautifully and vividly drawn that I wondered why I had never seen a film of it - it seemed absolutely perfect for an adaptation. A quick search on Amazon revealed that it had been made in to a film - starring Julie Christie and Alan Bates. I cannot think of a more perfect casting for this film, and I hope this gives you a sense of the novel itself.

The story is tragic and heart-breaking, but told in such an authentic and believable way. The characters seem real and there are even humorous passages, which of course heighten the sense of foreboding which runs throughout the story. A real gem of a book and one that, I think, should be more widely read.


  1. I read this a number of years ago and I loved it too!

  2. Like Mrs B, I read this a good few years ago (at the recommendation of my Mum who does not recommend many books, but they are always good when she does) - and really loved it. I remember being fascinated by how the author uses the narrator and develops the voice in the novel.

    Great review - thanks indeed for sharing