Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book: The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley



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

The Go-Between is a masterpiece of considered writing. The main character is Leo Colston, a twelve year boy who is spending the summer at his high-society friend’s house, Brandham Hall. However, I am stopping there as I don’t want to give anything away. Indeed, I must warn readers not to read any reviews, the introduction, or even the notes, as they will all give away the plot. The book is easily worth a read even if you know how things are going to pan out, but can be enjoyed all the more if we leave the story a mystery and let things build up and unfold.

It is in capturing the thoughts of a child and explaining through the mind of an articulate adult, that Hartley shines unlike any author I have come across. He paints an emotionally rich and volatile landscape, reminding the reader of their own childhood; how the relative importance of things was very different; how the adult world was a foreign one; how a small success could produce a tidal wave of pride; how everything was so fragile and things easily derailed; how fantasies played a much greater part in everyday life.

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Here are a few of my favourite passages from The Go-Between (only read if you aren't going to read the book):

- If my twelve-year-old self, of whom I had grown rather fond, thinking about him, were to reproach
me: ‘Why have you grown up such a dull dog, when I gave you such a good start? Why have you spent your time in dusty libraries, cataloguing other people’s books instead of writing your own? What has become of Ram, the Bull, and the Lion, the example I have you to emulate? Where above all is the Virgin, with her shining face and long curling tresses, whom I entrusted to you’ – what should I say?
I should have an answer ready. ‘Well, it was you who let me down, and I will tell you how. You flew too near the sun, and you were scorched. This cindery creature is what you made me.

- My mother was mistaken if she thought I gloated over their downfall; it was the rise in my own stock that enlarged my spirit.

When Leo moves quarters in Brandham Hall.
- It was a very small room, almost a cell: and the bed so narrow it could only be meant for one person. My things were all there, my hair brushes, my red collar-box; but all in different places and looking different:  and I felt different too. I tiptoed about, as though exploring a new personality. Whether I was more or less than I had been, I couldn’t decide: but I felt I was cast for a new role.

- And without my being aware of it, the climate of my emotions had undergone a change. I was no longer satisfied with the small change of experience which has hitherto contented me. I wanted to deal in larger sums.

- He had very little to laugh about, I thought, and yet he laughed. … I felt he had some inner strength of reserve which no reverse, however serious, would break down.

- How everything else had been diminished by it and drained of quality! – for it was a standard of comparison that dwarfed other things. Its colours were brighter, its voice louder, its power of attraction infinitely greater. It was a parasite of emotions. Nothing else could live with it or have an independent existence while it was there. It created a desert, it wouldn’t share with anyone or anything, it wanted all the attention for itself. And being a secret it contributed to nothing to our daily life; it could no more be discussed than some shameful illness.

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