L.P.Hartley: The past is a foreign country

The Go-Between

The winged messenger

I said that I would return to the topic of The Go-Between and so I have (with a certain amount of delay admittedly). I enjoyed the novel a great deal, which is set in a period and in a milieu that has always had a particular fascination for me. The Penguin Modern Classics edition (1997, 2000) has an excellent scholarly introduction by Douglas Brooks-Davies which I read before the novel, but that I wish I had left until afterwards as it gave away the details of the plot. Bearing that in mind, I will attempt to do no plot spoiling myself. Suffice to say that at one point I was irresistibly reminded of Aunt Ada Doom seeing something nasty in the woodshed at Cold Comfort Farm.

The novel recalls memories of a hot summer in 1900, in which Leo Colston has been invited to stay with his somewhat grander school friend Marcus Maudsley at Brandham Hall. Twelve-year-old Leo is the go between of the title, in his role of secret messenger between Marian Maudsley and Ted Burgess, a local farmer. These messages are mirrored by the errands he runs between Marian and the man her mother wishes her to marry, Viscount Trimingham.

Leo, as an old man looking through childish souvenirs in an old Eton collar box, recalls the details of that summer from long ago. The discovery of the box and its contents prompts memories that Leo has suppressed for his entire adult life. The book deals with loss of innocence (Leo’s) and class issues, as well as love, loyalty and friendship. The class barriers of the pre-war years are neatly encapsulated. The set pieces of the local cricket match and the post-match concerts show clearly the ‘them’ and ‘us’ aspects of the social life of the village. Against this background is set the affair between the lovely Marian and the attractive, but socially inferior Ted.

The Go-Between

First edition (1953) cover

The focus of the novel is on Leo’s naivety and the drastic effect that the discovery of adult sexuality has on his subsequent emotional development. He clearly at first has no idea of the nature of the relationship between Marian and Ted. It is hard to imagine that such innocence existed from our twenty-first century perspective. However, the narrative makes clear that life was very different then. Adults and children lived almost separate lives; indeed at first, Leo did not even realise that Marian was the sister of his school friend. All the adults seemed indistinguishable from one another. They even seemed to speak a different language from the public school patois he shared with Marcus. Leo, being of a humbler background than the Maudsleys (yet not lowly enough to be excluded from the delights of Brandham Hall) has at times to submit to being corrected about what is appropriate behaviour or language by the often insufferable Marcus. It has to be said that Marcus is (in my view at least) a very unappealing child in his snobbery towards the lower orders. No doubt however, his attitude to the villagers was common enough at the time.

If Marian fascinated Leo, then he was almost terrified of her mother and lived in dread of doing the wrong thing. Manners and behaviour were very important and obedience was expected from children. It was however, a time when children were left to their own devices for long stretches so the boys could escape adult supervision for hours on end. This of course facilitated Leo’s mission as Mercury, flying between the hall and the farm bearing messages with nobody being any the wiser.

I said I would try not to plot spoil The Go-Between, so I will leave it there and hope that my notes have whetted your appetitite if this is a novel that has so far passed you by. My only remaining task is to point out that the copy I have been reading actually belongs to ‘He who put the shelves up’ (with many thanks). 

Happy reading! 


Landing Eight Update: The Go-Between

Another Landing ‘quick post’: The Go-Between

The Go-Between

The winged messenger

For anyone who has been wondering whether I will ever finish reading the Landing Eight pile, I would like to announce that finally I read The Go-Between, during a Bank Holiday weekend break in Kilkenny.

I will return to the book in another post, but for now suffice to say that I enjoyed sweltering in the heat of summer in 1900 (though I doubt if I would have been socially elevated enough to be invited to play croquet had I really been around at the time). I rather think I would have been considered to be what Marcus so charmingly described as one of the ‘plebs’.

As it is now autumn, almost Halloween in fact, I will leave you with a muse upon the tendency of shops to confuse Halloween with Christmas. I wrote this for Paragraph Planet a couple of years ago and was reminded of it again last week while looking at pumpkins in Marks and Spencer and becoming distracted by a nearby aisle of Christmas decorations. It was all too much…

Christween. No sooner is Halloween cleared away than Christmas is upon us. Though actually for a while the two festivals were running mates. Witches’ coven one side of the shopping centre; Santa’s house taking shape on the other. They could have been neighbourly and exchanged tricks for mince pies. Now alas, there are only rotting pumpkins to rival the tinselly explosion. Jolly Christmas lights and cheer all the way; the spooky darkness has been routed.

And if you have never had a look at Paragraph Planet before, stop by and take a look at what can be done in just 75 words …

Landing Eight Progress: L.P.Hartley

The Go-Between

The winged messenger

Turning my attention back to the Reading Challenge that was whole purpose of this blog, I have been scanning the remaining Landing Eight titles to decide what will come next. My choice will be to read L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between (Penguin) as a complete contrast to The Periodic Table. In common with many people I suspect, I have known the famous first line to this novel for years without ever having read the book. Well, now is the time to put that lack of experience finally to rights. That is, after I have finished a couple of other books that are floating around, procrastination being my modus operandi (she confesses sadly).

The Locust and the Bird

The Locust and the Bird – trade paperback edition

At present, I am reading My Mother’s Story: The Locust and the Bird by Hanan Al-Shaykh, a completely engrossing Lebanese memoir. The book is a trade paperback title that I grabbed from a bargain section some while ago because the lovely title (and the stylish woman on the jacket) appealed to me. A quick mention also for the memoir, The Storyteller’s Daughter by journalist Saira Shah; in which Shah tells of her attempts to come to terms with, and understand her Afghan heritage. She has had some truly close shaves during several years of conflict in Afghanistan, which are un-nerving even to read.

A wonderful thread running through the book is that of the stories passed down the generations of the family. At one point Shah quotes her father comparing stories to dried onions. He told her that stories are ‘like dried experience. They aren’t the original experience but they are more than nothing at all’. The stories have a purpose in helping to explain and deal with life’s experiences as they come along. I have written a little about the importance of stories and storytellers in a previous post (April) so this aspect of the book was of particular interest to me.

Now, your starter for ten: tell me about your favourite storyteller…

Other News:

As I am sure many people know, the nice folks running the Grafton Media Blog Awards Ireland have recently announced the shortlists. This blog has been shortlisted in the ‘Best Newcomer’ category, which is very exciting for me. A big ‘Thank You’ is due to the organisers (Amanda Webb, Lorna Sixsmith and Beatrice Whelan) for selecting the Landing Bookshelves for inclusion on the list. I put my head in the sand after the nomination went in and tried not to think too optimistically about the awards, so it was particularly cheering to find that I had got this far. I will be firmly crossing fingers (and maybe toes too) ahead of the Finalists announcement (29th September). However, the crossing fingers part may make typing tricky so perhaps I will simply try to visualise crossed fingers and see how that works. Actually, page turning would be awkward as well and I definitely do not need any obstacles on the reading front either.

So, it’s back to The Go-Between for me…

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It’s awards time…