The Go Between L.P. Hartley – An ideal summer read

I admit that I have not read this book in the very recent past, but we did read it last year for book group, and way back in the last century(!) I studied it for A level. We ended up talking about the book and the film at a recent group, as it is, undoubtedly, the book to read in a heatwave.

Of course, these things are all relative. I cannot say it’s precisely boiling here in the north east, but it is warmer than usual. Jackets have been removed in the village! In the event of you being in a place where the heat haze is shimmering, this book is the one to read. It expresses so well the feeling of a summer building to a climax. The emotional temperature boils over in this novel, as adult actions have a severe impact on the child narrator, as the whole social system moves into war and destruction.

The film is available on dvd, yet I remember being piled on a minibus to go and see it on a ‘big’ screen in Warwick University. Beautifully made, it stars Julie Christie and the wonderful Alan Bates among others, and is just wonderfully filmed with a real sense of place, heat, and time. If you have not seen it, I can recommend it.

The narration of the book is written through the eyes of an older man, recalling a glorious summer in his childhood. It begins with a truly memorable line, “The past is another country, they do things differently there.” Leo is sent to stay at the house of a school friend for the summer. Thus he encounters a house party of confusing adults whose lives as the well off local gentry are alien to his experience and expectations. He wears the wrong clothes, is too affected by the cricket and concert which marks the differences in class and responsibility, and cannot understand the language and jokes of the upper classes at play. The central drama revolves around an illicit relationship into which Leo gets dragged as messenger and go between.

There are so many images here that linger in the memory, mainly from the book but ably reinforced by the film. The beautiful but dangerous weed, belladonna. The heat of  an inappropriate outfit which must be replaced. The birthday excitement never quite realised. The events of this book are obviously, for the reader, building to an inevitable climax from which no one benefits, that destroys and shocks in its intensity. Yes, the storm is coming, that will break the heat in so many ways. Many an essay has been written about unreliable narrators, symbolism and  the period just before the First World War on the basis of this book, but it is just a good (and not an over- long) novel which should be easy to find.

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