Friday, May 18, 2012
The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley
L. P. Hartley was edging toward his sixties when he wrote The Go-Between but he certainly had not lost the capacity to remember what it was like to be a child. As Leo Colston travels through the story, Hartley keenly reminds us how it felt to go unnoticed by adults and ignorant as to what so many things are about. There is charm though in the swirl of wonder and curiousity amidst so many unknowns and it can be one of the best times of our lives. Hartley poignantly defends the idea that ignorance is bliss, at least in childhood.
The story begins with Leo as a mature man routing through an old red cardboard box full of the sorts of things a small boy would call treasure. Finding a diary from the summer of 1900, when he turned thirteen, he recalls being bullied but also the most fantastic case of coincidence resulting in his becoming something of a hero to other bullied youth. Reading more from his past, Leo finally processes the events of an unusually hot summer spent with the Maudsley family as a playmate for Marcus, a friend from his dormitory.
Brandham Hall is a world apart from Leo's modest home and upbringing. In this upper class mansion, clothes are changed often, meals are formal, servants pick your things up from the floor, appearance is everything and sticking to your class in relationships matters. The Maudsleys seem to relish in the project of 'bringing up' Leo to their standard and outfit him in expensive garments in cooler fabrics rather than see him suffer in his hot, scratchy wool. The colour they choose for him is green which is rather symbolic and intentional on the author's part I'm sure.
While staying at Brandham Hall, Leo develops quite the crush on Marcus's older sister, Marian. When she asks if he would mind delivering a note to a nearby farmer, Leo jumps at the chance to serve. He then becomes a go-between but a rewarding feeling of being useful turns to one of jealousy and dread. Just what is going on between the farmer and Marian that requires such secrecy? Rather than enjoy all the wonders of an idyllic summer holiday spent frolicking in cool ponds under a blazing sky, Leo agonizes over things he can't fully understand until a dreadful day of reckoning. His blissful ignorance of the adult world has vapourized and he is changed forever.
The library I work for is in the midst of a massive weeding campaign and last week I snapped up a discarded copy of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. This story is included as one of them. The Go-Between and The Hireling are two books by this author that I have thoroughly enjoyed but be prepared, not only will L. P. Hartley's writing grab your heart but he goes for your guts as well.