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The Go-Between

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3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  3,475 ratings  ·  286 reviews
"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."
Summering with a fellow schoolboy on a great English estate, Leo, the hero of L. P. Hartley's finest novel, encounters a world of unimagined luxury. But when his friend's beautiful older sister enlists him as the unwitting messenger in her illicit love affair, the aftershocks will be felt for years. The ins
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Paperback, 326 pages
Published March 31st 2002 by New York Review of Books (first published 1953)
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Community Reviews

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Paul
A sublime novel, beautifully written and very evocative. It has, probably one of the most famous opening lines in literature. Do I need to quote it? Probably not, but I will because it does sum up the book; "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." In the early 1950s Leo Colston looks back on the long hot summer of 1900 when he turned 13, the memory of which he has blanked out. He discovers his diary and begins to piece together the events.
Hartley describes life in an E
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Trish
Hartley has taken my breath away with the sweep of his story and the majesty of his writing. This book was published when he was fifty-eight, in 1953, and evokes England before the wars "quickly, simply, effortlessly" (Tóibín, Intro p. x). Hartley, in an interview, wrote:
I wanted to evoke the feeling of that summer [in 1900], the long stretch of fine weather, and also the confidence in life, the belief that all's well with the world, which everyone seemed to enjoy before the First World War...Th
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Chris
Look, just give me a book by a Brit with two initials whose observance is all the more sensual for being somehow repressed, and set him aloose on the pre-war countryside, okay? I'm easy.

The climactic action of this book is when a kid rips up a shrub, yet, I liked it.

Tony
There is, of course, the great opening line: The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. And there is the magnificent cover, with just the perfect adolescent male face; even the green color is important, it turns out. There is also the very useful, if unfortunately positioned 'Author's Introduction'. Hartley quickly and explicitly expresses his debt to Proust and posits that an author, though wedded to the present, writes better when reflecting on the past, where impressions ...more
El
Another coming-of-age, loss-of-innocence novel that will undoubtedly be familiar to and especially appreciated by people who liked Atonement. For whatever reason, Atonement didn't work for me, but this one did.

The majority of the story takes place in England in the summer of 1900, but Hartley brings that alive in a way that makes it familiar to someone like me who has never set foot (yet) in England or lived during the summer of 1900. It's not hard to forget the summers of our own childhoods on
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Donna
The household will be happy to have my attention again. It hasn't seen a flicker of it since I started reading this book. I've seen the movie. Liked it very much. Yet even knowing what was going to happen, the story in the book still felt new to me. That's a quality in the writing; it's the kind that makes everything new. And by the end of the book, the crystalline narration , that is never precious, had made his memories, my memories. I haven't had a narrator do that since Nick Carraway. And th ...more
Vanessa Wu
This is one of the most perfect novels ever written. It has many layers and levels, thanks to its brilliant narrative structure of an old man recollecting a tragic love story he witnessed in intense close up as a young boy. It is a rare case of a complex narrative structure actually being necessary for the proper exposition of the plot. For the story is not just about what happened when the narrator was a boy, but how it changed his life as a man and how, towards the end of his life, writing abo ...more
Karl
This has been my second reading of "The Go-Between," my first having been probably some fifteen years ago. I was a little nervous that the book itself might not live up to my memory of it. I needn't have been. It is one of a handful of books that gets a childhood/adolescent point of view spot on. Andre Aciman's "Call Me By Your Name," Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," Truman Capote's "Other Voices, Other Rooms," Haven Kimmel's "A Girl Named Zippy," Ann Marie McDonald's "The Way the Crow Flie ...more
MJ Nicholls
Note: This review is from October 2nd 2007 when the reviewer was a spotty man-boy of twenty. Excuse the gaucheness herein.

Hugh Might Enjoy This

Lord up on high, save me from the woeful sound of old people having sex.

It was March 4th 1996 and the occasion was a brief stopover in a B&B during an enthralling coach trip from Dunbartonshire and Clydebank. Those are cities in Scotland, kind reader—of little import to this brief introduction—so we need not trouble ourselves with them at this junctur
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Lobstergirl
Jun 11, 2011 Lobstergirl rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Julian Assange
Shelves: own, nyrb, fiction
The novel opens with the narrator, Leo Colston, now in his 60s, reminiscing about the summer of 1900 when at age twelve he spent a month at a large country estate with his wealthy school chum, Marcus Maudsley, and Marcus's sophisticated and pretty older sister Marian. Marian is having a very illicit affair with a local tenant farmer, Ted Burgess. Leo becomes complicit in the affair as Marian and Ted use him to ferry messages between them. Also present is the young facially disfigured war veteran ...more
Antonomasia
[4.5]
Not the chap from the Yellow Pages ad. That was J.R. Hartley.

The Go-Between is a book of high summer, set in a hot July (in the year 1900) - but which I was prompted to read now, a little late in the season, after noticing a basic similarity with The Line of Beauty. (Also having decided to read some of the unread 1001 Books novels I own.) I loved the Hollinghurst so much I wanted to read bits of it again straight away, but knowing this is usually just a good way of making myself bored of a
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Jeanette
The first line of this book brought familiarity, but reading further I realized that I had positively read this book before. Possibly in my late 20's, and no earlier than that, I am sure. And what strikes home the most NOW on reaction to this read, is that I was so much more sympathetic with our go-between then, than I am now in my own age.

It's his older, 60 plus years, self that I find problematic. The child going to man, I can fully understand and sympathize. Especially with the death events
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Jason
Aug 20, 2007 Jason rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: to-re-read
Easily now one of my favorite novels. Hartley's ability to write children is amazing. This is a must-read, heartbreakingly-good.
Dan Smith
'The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.' I love this book - from the opening line to the closing line.

Going to stay with his more wealthy friend (who remains ill and bed-ridden for the better part of the story), 12 year old Leo becomes the go-between, delivering notes between society girl Marian and her lover Ted Burgess, a man of more lowly means. Of course, all ends in brilliant, horrible, tragedy.

The concept of the man looking back at his childhood, able now to unde
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Kristen
Upon second reading, this is definitely a five star book for me. The first great thing about it is that Hartley offers some really wonderful descriptions of the natural world. The novel is set at an English country house in the summer of 1900, a record heatwave, and the atmosphere is filled with wheat fields, swimming holes, and cricket pitches. In many ways, it's an idyllic vision of an English summer, but I also liked that one of the central metaphors of the book is a poisonous plant growing o ...more
Catherine
The New York Review of Books catalog is such a great place to look for a new book, especially when you're in a reading slump; they have such a varied, interesting collection. I usually cruise through it when I can't find something, but my sister was the one who recommended the Go-Between.

It's set in the year 1900, and the narrator, now in his 60's relates a tragedy which took place then, when he was 12. L.P Hartley does such a terrific job of giving the mind of this child, the whole book rides i
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Lizzie
I never wanted this book to end. Its measured pace and slow reveal of the protagonist's a young boy’s initiation into adult matters was perfect. It’s about class and self image, rules and what they mean, and innocence and blindness. I loved it.

I was glad I read this edition which has an introduction by the author in which he discusses the moral of the story, as he saw it, and that he learned many readers did not interpret it that way.
Ian
This may be just one of the most perfect novels I have ever read. In conception and execution, it is absolutely first class; in tone it is pitch-perfect from first word to last; its range covers the intimate and general with utmost confidence; every character rings true. In the summer of 1900, young Leo Colston spends the holidays with the family of his friend at their stately pile in Norfolk. His innocence allows him to be manipulated by the adults into carrying messages to abet a cross-class a ...more
Howard
This English modern classic was written in 1953 by Hartley who was born in 1895. He would thus have been a 6 year old at the time of the story’s setting at the turn of the century in 1900. I mention this because the novel centres on, and is narrated by an innocent 13 year old boy being the messenger between to lovers; the novel however starts with the boy, now in his fifties, discovering his old diary.

The boy, Lionel (preferring Leo), is a boarder at public school, his widow mother doesn’t have
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MrsCordial
One of the most affecting books I've ever read, and superbly brought to life in the film. An extraordinarily powerful depiction of the exploitation and destruction of a child's innocence, and the far-reaching consequences of it. A beautiful evocation of a way of life that was about to disappear forever, ostensibly showing us the golden side of that life, but so clearly demonstrating how damaging it could be for people on both sides.
Paul Gelsthorpe
This is a book that will live long in my memory. Ironically, LP Hartley's narrative thrust revolves around the recollection of a man's childhood summer retreat to his school friend's estate, Brandham Hall in Norfolk, so in one sense, the idea of the nature of memory itself is key to the book's appeal.

Like Marcel Proust, Hartley is interested in the idea of recollections of an involuntary nature, and the novel serves as a looking glass through which the author examines themes also familiar to Pr
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Lynne King
I thought the book was excellent and I also liked the film with Julie Christie and Alan Bates. I must write a review at some stage. This was a real trip down memory lane.
William
I have mixed feelings about this novel. There is a certain bucolic British charm to this story which takes place largely in a manor house in Norfolk in 1900. I have not before read a book where the Boer War was in everyone's mind. Hartley also is convincing in the depiction of English daily living and class distinctions in this era. The prose is clean and moves along fairly well, so it was not until I was well into the book that I realized I could have been enjoying it more.

The story is told thr
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Nick
What I liked best about this novel is Hartley's ability to write the narrator Leo as a child. The narrator is writing from many years after childhood, but the thing that's most interesting is his knack for describing the situations that Leo doesn't understand, but that he finds himself in the middle of (the "go-between" of the title). I'm not sure that any contemporary twelve-year-old would be as naive as Leo was then (1900, or even 1953, when Hartley published it), but the novel isn't really po ...more
Billierosie Billierosie
“The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”

L.P.Hartley’s inspired opening sentence to his remarkable novel, “The Go-Between” is memorable and often quoted.

“The Go-between was first published in 1953, the following year it received the Heinemann Foundation Prize of the Royal Society of Literature. Its film version was also very successful and won the principal award at the Festival de Cannes in 1973. The novel is a memory story: a man in his sixties looks back on his boyhoo
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Jennifer
Thirteen year old Leo spends the summer of 1900 with his wealthier school friend, Marcus, at his family estate. I have never been a thirteen your old boy but I can only imagine that this narrative from inside Leo's head is spot on. Leo is intrigued by the adult world while still enjoying childish games of sliding down the haystack or playing in the rubbish. Not fully understanding the situation, he becomes the 'go-between' for Marcus' sister Marian and the neighboring father Ted Burgess. Through ...more
Rupert Smith
Of all the post-War, mid-century English novels on my 'favourites' 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: no one has ever written so convincingly about the way adolescents perceive the world, or used the physical realm of heat and plants an ...more
Fiorella Maria
A stunning, heartbreaking book set in the forgotten world of pre-First World War England. I was not sure I would get on with the novel at the start, I found the opening quite slow and the use of memorabilia a rather cliched way of going back in time but when the story really got going it had me hooked. I was struck by the vulnerability of Leo and the utter selfishness of Marion, but most of all by the powerful way in which the author brings the household and all its members to life. I am always ...more
Jamie
I so wanted to like this book, to finish this book--maybe if I had finished it I would've liked it? Well, we'll never know for sure because 44 pages was enough for me. What made me stop was the narrator's annoying habit of saying the same thing three "different" ways for three sentences in a row. And the fact that the big event or tragedy or whatever it is, is alluded to on every page (almost!) but I could tell the build-up was going to kill me and probably not reward me in the afterlife for sti ...more
Bibliophile
L. P. Hartley's The Go-Between begins with one of my favorite literary quotes: "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."

And indeed, as Leo Colston, now in his 60s, remembers the summer of 1900 which he spent with a classmate from school, it slowly becomes clear that not only the past, but childhood itself, is a foreign place. When Leo is chosen by his friend's beautiful sister to play the role of "postman" to her secret (and quite unsuitable) lover, a mounting sense of d
...more
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“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” 315 likes
“If my twelve-year-old self, of whom I had grown rather fond, thinking about him, were to reproach me: 'Why have you grown up such a dull dog, when I gave you such a good start? Why have you spent your time in dusty libraries, catologuing other people's books instead of writing your own? What had become of the Ram, the Bull and the Lion, the example I gave you to emulate? Where above all is the Virgin, with her shining face and curling tresses, whom I entrusted to you'- what should I say?

I should have an answer ready. 'Well, it was you who let me down, and I will tell you how. You flew too near to the sun, and you were scorched. This cindery creature is what you made me.'

To which he might reply: 'But you have had half a century to get over it! Half a century, half the twentieth century, that glorious epoch, that golden age that I bequeathed to you!'

'Has the twentieth century,' I should ask, 'done so much better than I have? When you leave this room, which I admit is dull and cheerless, and take the last bus to your home in the past, if you haven't missed it - ask yourself whether you found everything so radiant as you imagined it. Ask yourself whether it has fulfilled your hopes. You were vanquished, Colston, you were vanquished, and so was your century, your precious century that you hoped so much of.”
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