Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Go-Between (novel)

L.P. Hartley: Sananviejä (The Go-Between). GB 1953. Translated by J.A. Hollo / Tammi / Keltainen kirjasto, Helsinki 1955.

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." This is one of the great opening sentences in world literature.

I read this novel for the first time in preparation for our tribute to Keltainen kirjasto (The Yellow Library), Finland's best series of modern quality fiction since 55 years.

The concept is very cinematic. The old man finds his boyhood diary from the year 1900 and relives the turbulent experiences of a special summer.

This is a Bildungsroman of boyhood observations that take place too early. This is also a social novel, constantly aware of the English class and rank system. From the boy's perspective it is the story of the love affair between Marian Maudsley (daughter of the wealthy Maudsley family) and Ted Burgess (the neighbour, the tenant farmer). They love each other, but Marian is destined to marry Viscount Hugh Trimingham, wounded in the Boer War, representing centuries of nobility. Money is destined to marry rank. There is also a strong sense of history in this novel, of the fatal impact of the wars that Britain had suffered.

But most of all, it's the story of the end of boyhood. It is very well written (I believe J.A. Hollo's translation pays justice to the original), in full command of the various layers of the story, and with a fine sense of poetic imagery. The belladonna has a special significance.

Ian McEwan's Atonement (I saw the film but haven't read the novel) seems to be inspired by The Go-Between.

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