Reading The Go-Between

Unknown man; Jean de Menasce; Leslie Poles ('L...

Unknown man; Jean de Menasce; Leslie Poles (‘L.P.’) Hartley; Sylvester Govett Gates; Hon. Robert Gathorne-Hardy, by Lady Ottoline Morrell (died 1938). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve recently become interested in astrology. But only because one of my friends likes reading astrology charts and I like hearing things that I’m supposed to identify with and deciding whether or not I do. Would I be a great private investigator? I don’t know,, but I’d like to think so. (I like Veronica Mars.)

I bring this up because I just finished The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley (pictured above, in a time and place I would have liked to experience) and there’s a lot of stuff about the Zodiac in there. I would even go so far as to say that the Zodiac is a theme. OK, the main character and narrator’s name is Leo – my sign! – so it’s definitely a theme.

Anyway, I liked this book. A lot. Which is why I’m writing about it here. It has all of my favorite things ever: a child narrator, commentary on the declining British aristocracy at the turn of the 20th century, classism, a doomed love affair, fake spells, deadly nightshade, and people speaking French without any English translation. I feel like my heart and brain are exploding after writing all of that out.

And I hadn’t even heard of this book until a few weeks ago when I freakishly went through the entire catalog of books published by NYRB and listed out all of the ones I want to read. (There are approximately one million books on that list.) I ended up buying it at The Strand shortly thereafter – and only because it was one of the books that didn’t require me scrambling up a ladder to reach. Though I probably wouldn’t have scrambled because I don’t like putting myself in situations where I could be physically harmed. I actually was very close to buying the other L.P. Hartley book on the shelves, Eustace and Hilda, a novel written in three parts. One of the parts is called The Shrimp and the Anemone and if you know anything about me, you know how much that title would appeal to me. But I ended up buying The Go-Between because it seemed like a more significant and famous work and also the back cover had a quote from Ian McEwan and talked about how the book was made into a movie starring Julie Christie, whom I admire.

It really made perfect sense for there to be an Ian McEwan quote on the back cover because it turns out that the story of The Go-Between is kind of exactly the same as Atonement except told in a much less modern, less dramatic manner. (Except for the deadly nightshade! The presence of deadly nightshade is always so dramatic!) I like/love Atonement (except for the middle part, I hate the middle) and I think that my level of like/love for The Go-Between is the same. I was sort of bored at times with all of the beautiful prose. That’s OK to admit, right? Sometimes perfectly lovely prose makes me just want to skip entire paragraphs so that I can get to the part that tells me what the point is.

So then, what’s the point of the book? I think – I’m hesitant to even give my opinion on what the point is because I got an 80 on a paper in the last college English class that I ever took and haven’t been confident in my analysis skills ever since – that the novel is about childhood, remembrance, and the profound experiences that not only color our memories, but also mark our passage from one stage of life into the next. So, the same things that Atonement is about. (Now I’m wishing that I had written a college English paper comparing these two books.) And the same things that I’m interested in exploring in my own fiction.

As a writer, I try to get something out of every book I read and reading The Go-Between gave me a lot to think about in terms of my own writing. I’ve been trying to write a short story, set sometime in the early twentieth century, from a child’s perspective and have struggled a lot since I wrote the first draft. I’ve gotten really hung up on some of the details because it’s based on my own family history. I’m still developing as a fiction writer and I’m trying to get to the point I’m able to infuse my stories with manipulated versions of real life events and histories without feeling any kind of attachment to them, but it’s been difficult. However, after reading The Go-Between I feel compelled to try my luck again with my own story because I think it’s a good one. I just need to work at it.