Tuesday 13 June 2023

The Go-Between, LP Hartley

This time reading The Go-Between it was the knowledge of the 12 year-old narrator that struck me: he knew french, he knew the zodiac, he had some spells up his sleeve, he had absorbed the Rather Wrong and the Very Wrong, from his mother and his school. He was, by today's lights, a learned child. Sensitive to what was correct. Fatherless. Nothing so fearful as a fatherless child. 

Leo's passage to knowledge left him scarred. He witnessed Very Wrong in the outhouse. The landed beauty, Marian Maudsley, and the tenant farmer, Ted Burgess. Two bodies moving like one. He was dragged to the scene by Marian's mother, intent as she was on a match between Marian and Lord Trimingham.

I think I was more mystified than horrified; it was Mrs Maudsley's repeated screams that frightened me, and a shadow on the wall that opened and closed like an umbrella

L.P. Hartley wrote The Go-Between out of his own needs and memories, a painful crooked truth he could only tell this way. Leo's breakdown happened on his 13th birthday.

During my breakdown I was like a train going through a series of tunnels, sometimes in the daylight, sometimes in the dark, sometimes knowing who and where I was, sometimes not knowing. Little by little the periods of daylight grew more continuous and at last I was running in the open; by the middle of September I was considered fit to go back to school.

After The Go-Between I started A Perfect Woman, also by L.P. Hartley, something to read at night or up at the pond. A lesser book, a pot-boiler perhaps. But I enjoy this grown-up Leo, L.P. Hartley, taking on suburban England: an accountant and his wife and their two tidy children, Jeremy and Janice, who play at farmer and trespasser in the back garden. Trespass: Rather Wrong. The accountant's wife, Isabel, is up against Irma, the Austrian barmaid. 1950s repression its painful. 

Here on the hill in Inniscarra, the weather is as hot as it was in Norfolk where Leo was checking the temperature daily. He sometimes met Mr Maudsley there. They would converse about expected temperatures. If you wanted to know about things like spooning, you asked Ted Burgess That was not what Ted and Marian were doing. It couldn't be. Spooning was not intrinsically Very Wrong. And yet it was.

.... the tidings of Ted's suicide came to me voicelessly, like a communication in a dream.

His fate I did know, and it was for him I grieved. He haunted me. Not only in the most dreadful way, by his blood and brains stuck to the kitchen walls, but by a persistent picture of him cleaning his gun. The idea that he had cleaned it to shoot himself with was a special torment to me; of all the thoughts he might have had while cleaning it, the thought that he was going to use it against himself must have been the one furthest from his mind. The irony of this was like an arrow to my spirit.

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