Based on anecdotal evidence, you likely have never heard of The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley, but you might know its opening line: “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” I picked the book up recently because Michael Crawford (of Phantom of the Opera fame) starred in a musical play based on the book–which was why I went to England last September! (I’d have gone eventually…but that was why it happened then.) The play was wonderful, Crawford was magnificent, and the book was pretty good too.
The Go-Between centers around Leo Colston, an older man remembering the summer he turned thirteen. He spent it with a school friend’s family, at an estate much above his own social class. There he had his first crush, on his friend’s older sister Marion, and became the go-between for Marion and Tom, a local farmer. And while it all seems quite cheerful at first, we know something went horribly wrong.
This is one of those charming, terribly British books that manages to be incredibly discreet, while centering the entire plot around a scandal. Marion and Tom are of course carrying on a torrid affair, despite the class difference, despite Marion’s coming engagement–but even though the affair is at the center of everything, I don’t think Hartley ever once says so! But I like that–because we all know what’s going on, but Hartley is subtle and clever about conveying it. And it also is a good mirror for Leo himself, who is (somewhat out of his own desire) in the dark for most of the book. Continue reading “Book Review: The Go-Between”