26. The Go-Between, LP Hartley (1953)

Of all the post-War, mid-century English novels on this list – and there are plenty – The Go-Between is probably the best. On the surface it’s a simple enough story of an introspective, imaginative teenage boy who gets embroiled in an illicit affair during the course of a long, hot summer at a big Norfolk house. If that’s all it was, I’d still love it enough to put it on this list: no one has ever written so convincingly about the way adolescents perceive the world, or used the physical realm of heat and plants and smells etc to such powerful effect. But what makes The Go-Between so special is the way it deals with memory: the story is told by an old man looking back on his childhood, prompted by the discovery of a diary, and the whole thing is full of the pain that memory can bring. ‘The past is a different country: they do things differently there,’ goes the oft-misquoted opening line, and it sustains that quality to the very end.



Filed under My top 100 novels

8 responses to “26. The Go-Between, LP Hartley (1953)

  1. David Benedict

    There are only two things wrong with this book: it lacks Michel Legrand’s score and Margaret Leighton. On a more serious note, its shimmering, sustained tension is a bloody marvel.

  2. Craig

    Please tell me it is not an expanded version of Galsworthy’s 1922 short story called A Long-ago Affair and if so, how did he get away with such obvious plagiarism?

    • Oooh didn’t know that Craig! I’ve not read the Galsworthy story in question. I love JG so will try and find a copy. R

      • Craig

        You’ll find it in the 1988 Penguin edition of Galsworthy short stories (all ultimately rather depressing to my way of thinking, not much allegro in them!) called “The Apple Tree”. If you can’t find it easily, I could possibly scan you a copy, it’s so short.

  3. Pretty sure there’s a copy of The Apple Tree knocking around the house somewhere. If not I suspect it’s available for little or no money on Kindle. Any good reading recommendations, Craig? Always up for new ideas. Currently ploughing through Roth’s American Pastoral which is great, but rather heavy going. R

    • Craig

      What did you think of Herbert Read’s The Green Child? It took me some 3 years to actually get to read it, and then it seemed to me like 2 books one inside the other. I was So impressed by the first part, a great writer I thought, then the middle part really annoyed me, and then the end …. you get the picture? it was back when I bought it, a Penguin Modern Classic (the grey spine series), but it took me that many years to reach it. Maybe when I bought it I wouldn’t have felt like I did reading it for the first time so near now? Do we change or does literature itself age ? I guess logically both forces are at work but interesting what stays good and what doesn’t. Similar things happen to me with classical music too….

      • Craig

        Oops I meant to write 30 years to read it!!! Meaning that I bought it and never read it for 30 years!!!!! Poor proof-reading, sorry.

  4. Never read it. If you recommend it I’ll give it a go I think we change, thank God. If you look at this list you’ll see a lot of things I was very keen on in my youth which I can barely stand now. Likewise authors who I hated when young I now love, most notably (and recently) Henry James. Ditto music. Classical music is my favourite thing now, although I still love the old rock & disco stuff of my youth. (BTW Craig if you want to correspond directly just email me rupert.smith@virgin.net, saves faffing around on here.) x R

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