Book reviews

When my fellow bloggers, FictionFan and Sandra from A Corner of Cornwall and I recently chose The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley for a Classics Club spin which didn’t come up, we decided to read the book anyway and publish our reviews on the same day (links to FictionFan and Sandra’s blogs below). I’m really looking forward to comparing our reactions to this book!

The Go-Between was my first experience of L.P. Hartley’s writing. I got a thrill when I read and recognised the first line, which I hadn’t realised came from this novel.

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

The story begins with an elderly man looking through his boyhood treasures, prompting him to remember the events of a particular summer during his childhood. Leo had suppressed the memories stemming from an incident occurring on his thirteenth birthday his whole life, affecting his emotional development and ability to pursue relationships. After Leo found and read the diary he kept during that fateful year, his returning memories became the story.

In 1900 Leo was at school, recording his school’s daily events in his diary. After gaining popularity amongst his schoolmates by injuring two bullies with a curse, Leo was invited to spend the summer holiday with Marcus, a schoolfriend at Brandham Hall in Norfolk.

The Maudsley family were richer and moved in a higher circle of society than Leo was used to, but he quickly became the particular pet of Marcus’ older sister Marian. When Marcus fell ill, Leo became a messenger for Marian, delivering letters between her and a local farmer, Ted Burgess, who were having a secret affair.

Leo also delivered messages to Marian from another houseguest, Lord Trimingham, who also loved Marian and wanted to marry her. Leo idolised Lord Trimingham and was delighted when asked to call him ‘Hugh’.

Leo idolised both Ted and Hugh, who represented different things to him. Hugh was a disfigured war hero, the Archer from Leo’s Zodiac diary, while Ted, a strong, manly farmer was the Water-Carrier. Leo saw Marian as the Virgin, a focus of attention, affection and the recipient of other zodiac symbol’s gallantry.

Leo was unaware of the nature of the messages he delivered for Marian and Ted, but when their affair was exposed he took the blame for the subsequent fall-out, despite the terrible shock he suffered on being exposed to the scandal.

The manipulation of Leo by selfish adults, leading to the loss of his self-esteem and innocence was tragic. Leo seemed to be to be a typical child, sometimes puffed up with his own importance and at other times ridiculously naïve and The Go-Between brought back uncomfortable memories of being twelve or thirteen years old myself, no longer a child, yet not quite a teenager and a long way from being an adult. I remember wanting to know more about subjects which mystified Leo and being unable to understand why adults behaved as they did. I also remember feeling confused, self-conscious and awkward much of the time.

Although this is story takes place during summer, an English summer is so different to an Australian summer that the time of year was as ‘other’ to me as the setting in Norfolk and the historic time of when this book was set, 1900. Times have changed, as the adult Leo noted during the sections of the story told in the present time. We have different ideas now about love affairs and we also have phones and other devices which lovers can use to contact each other directly, so ‘go-betweens’ are no longer required. People falling in love with the wrong person and selfish, manipulative behaviour will never disappear, though.

The writing in The Go-Between is beautiful. Every event is meaningful and is in the story for a reason. The individual words give the sense of having been particularly chosen for their inclusion. The plot is thrilling, even though the style of the story-telling is gentle.

I believe The Go-Between is a story that will remain with me for some time and one that I will re-read in future. I’m also looking forward to watching the movie of the book starring Julie Christie.

Please read Sandra and FictionFan’s reviews to see what they thought of The Go-Between.

The Go-Between was book fifteen in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.

Comments on: "The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley" (21)

  1. Great post Rose, I’m glad you loved the book as much as I did 😊 My review will be out in an hour or two. There was so much I wanted to explore with this book which I haven’t included in the post. Looking forward to FF’s thoughts and comparing notes between us.

  2. I’m so looking forward to reading your thoughts on this book 🙂 I don’t know about you, but I get blogger’s envy and wish I’d thought of things that other reviewer’s do!

  3. Totally! That’s exactly what I felt when I read your post! 😂

  4. FictionFan must have started watching the tennis…

  5. I agree the writing is beautiful! I remember liking the book but that there is a cricket match described which is rather dull to read? Unless I’m thinking of something else?

  6. You’re right, there was a cricket match in The Go-Between. I think cricket is boring too, which probably makes me un-Australian! The cricket match gave Leo a chance to take part in a game for adults and by catching Ted it, Leo became the man of the hour.

  7. Ah I remembered correctly then! Well done for pointing out the cricket had a purpose 🙂

  8. […] Rose’s review             Sandra’s review […]

  9. Great review and I’m so glad you loved it too! The writing is so beautiful and all four of the characters are so believable – I loved it just as much as I did when I was twenty and that doesn’t always happen. It’s amazing that Leo was so innocent at twelve but even in my childhood we knew far less about love and sex and all that stuff than kids seem to today. He really resonated with me – like you, it reminded me of how uncertain everything is at that age, when you’re half child half adult. I remember when I was about ten, the girl next door who was a few years older told me how babies were made, and I said in my most hoity-toity voice “Your parents may behave like that, but I can assure you mine don’t!” We didn’t speak again for two years… 😂

    Marian is great too – so ambivalent – I half loved and felt sorry for her, and half hated her. And as for that last chapter when we go back to the present day and find out what happened to everyone… well, paper hanky time!

    So sorry for disappearing! I’m off to read Sandra’s now…

  10. This does sound wonderful and I have had it on my radar for ages – I’ve just read FF’s review (now on to Sandra!), and you’ve convinced me I must read it very soon.

  11. Everything in this book had a purpose. Not many authors manage that (I’m thinking unkindly of a few books I’ve rambled through recently).
    Have you read anything else by this author?

  12. When I was twenty I was reading all kinds of trash that I’m certain have not stood the test of time!
    That is a very funny story! I have a similar story, but mine was being told something unbelievable about Santa Claus… as for the other, when I asked for information I was told something about strange the moon and the tides and couldn’t work it out at all!
    Marian is a great character, but I didn’t like her (I’m judgemental). Hugh was the only one who lived up to my high standards!

  13. Yes, do! It is a terrific story and beautifully written. As soon as I read that first line I was smitten! FF and Sandra’s reviews are lovely, they’ll certainly convince you to read this. 😀

  14. I loved Hugh too – Marian and Ted seemed so selfish, though this time round I realised how young Marian was. Ha! I mostly read trash too, but I worked my way through loads of the classics in my late teens and early twenties because for several years I lived in a flat with no TV! The library was my life… 😀

  15. No, I don’t think I’ve encountered any other Hartley books!

  16. I didn’t have tv for ages either and also lived at the library. I’d like to be that person again!
    Marian was young and selfish but I didn’t feel as if she grew out of her selfishness either. She made the most of the options she had, though.

  17. Me, either. Happy to think they are out there waiting to be read 🙂

  18. Yes, I think that’s what made that last section so tragic – that she hadn’t seemed to learn anything in her life…

  19. I read this SO long ago, like in my late teens or very early twenties, that I don’t recollect the details, but I do remember my feelings (the anger and sadness at the way the child is treated so thoughtlessly and callously) and the tone. You never forget that.

  20. The selfishness of various characters is the feeling that I think will stay with me. I think I’d like to reread The Go-Between in another year or so, to appreciate the actual writing and story-telling better, as I feel as if I raced through this time to spring out what would happen.

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