Wednesday 10 October 2007

The Answer Is...

Well, I sort of cheated, because I've already talked about this book this week - but not a I've-finished-it review yet. The book was...

The Go-Between. It was rather hiding on the shelf too, wasn't it. This split posting gives me a chance to answer some of the questions you lovely people put earlier! The anonymouses are confusing me rather, as I try and work out which is whom... would help if anonymous people signed their name, though of course they may prefer the intrigue and mystery... your prerogative! So, anonymous numero uno, yes I do shelve my tbr (to be read) books and my read books together... well, since most of my books are in Somerset I've brought tbrs, favourites, and books I want to blog about. I know it's methodical to shelve them separately, but I like the idea of them mingling - the books I've encountered jumbled up with ones which are yet foreign countries.

Which leads me nicely to the opening line of The Go-Between: 'The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there'. As I read somewhere else this week, what makes this sentence so memorable and evocative is the present tense for the past - 'they do', not 'they did'. Clever, LP Hartley.

And from the first line onwards, this novel was a delight.
Hartley breaks all sorts of rules - don't have the main action of your novel take place after a huge preamble; don't have it all as flashback etc. etc... and he still produces a wonderful novel. The prologue begins with a man finding his old diary, and reminiscing from there, remembering more and more of what happened decades ago. I knew vaguely what the plot was, so I knew that the schooldays bit couldn't last for very long - from the picture of Julie Christie on the front, if nothing else. And soon enough Leo heads off to Marcus' for the holidays, in a very upper class house and family to which he feels foreign and inferior. Gradually he finds his role in the web - as the go-between, taking notes between Marian and her two love interests; Hugh (think Mr. Bingley) and Ted (think Mellors without the accent).

Shan't spoil the ending of the main novel for those who don't want to know, but will just say that it manages to be a big surprise without sacrificing emotion to sensation. Ditto the epilogue. Throughout Hartley writes so well - that quality which I can't put my finger on, but can only describe as thick, treacley, substantial... Oh, and there is documenting of a cricket match which Ian McEwan should have read before he wrote the interminable squash match in Saturday.

Carole askes why I love this sort of novel so much - well, the 1900-1950ish domestic novel, I suppose. Ermm... Good question. The period was the first when ordinary lives and ordinary incidents became fodder for novels, and good domestic novels tread the line between whimsy and common sense perfectly, and often very wittily. Ideal.


  1. Thank you for answering my question. You are quite right of course, so now I know why I like them too!!! I loved 'The Go-Between', and thought the film adaptation worked well too.
    I have just bought 'Miss Hargreaves' for £9 98 off amazon ..1950 edition, so with luck it will be an old Penguin edition...Yipee!

  2. 1900-1950: my favorite time period too. There are the novels of domestic life - and the domestic life in non-fiction of those in the arts (writers, artists, etc.), or overlapping lives, domestic and otherwise, of those in the arts. I'll stop being so convoluted now!

  3. I have that very edition and recently looked up the cricket scene as it was relevant to something a friend - who didn't know the book - was talking about. Shows how it has stayed in the memory all these years!

  4. er, more negative comments on i mcewan? are you trying to enrage me?


I've now moved to, and all my old posts are over there too - do come and say hello :)

I probably won't see your comment here, I'm afraid, but all my archive posts can also be found at