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: The Go-Between

Barbara Durlacher recommends a novel which vividly portrays the social mores of the upper classes in the Edwardian age, L P Hartley's The Go-Between.


The author’s first sentence, ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’ aptly sums up the sense of a lost century, and an almost forgotten way of life, that of Edwardian England in 1900. The story depicts a society licking it’s wounds after a brush or two with the Boers. Outward appearances and genteel behaviour counted for more than individual happiness and personal integrity.

Seen through the eyes of an unworldly twelve-year-old boy, invited by a school-friend to join a summer house party, the hypocrisies and stratagems of a scheming mama and a less than dutiful daughter are incomprehensible. He is forced into actions which he instinctively senses are wrong, though he feels powerless to disobey. The outcome of his unknowing behaviour brings great heartbreak and tragedy, leaving him emotionally paralysed and unable to trust ever again.

Leo spends the exceptionally hot summer of 1900 in Norfolk with his school-friend Marcus in a grand country house filled with superficial and shallow guests who come and goand of whom he is only barely aware. That is, except for a former owner of the house, Lord Trimingham, who is desperately in love with Marian the beautiful daughter, and whose determined mother is adamant she will marry well for the many social reasons considered so important in those days.

However, unknown to Leo, Marian loves someone who would be considered completely unsuitable, and it is this clash of wills and hidden emotions seen through the eyes of a young boy struggling to keep his footing in social waters way beyond his understanding, that leads to the denouement and deep sense of disillusion which haunts him for the rest of his life.

As a sensitive and perceptive exploration of a boy’s first essays into manhood and the many psychological dangers that go with it, this book is highly recommended.


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