MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Now the latest in our series You Must Read This, where authors talk about a book they love. Today, Ann Brashares recommends the story of one young man's humiliation and betrayal and the summer that forever changed his life. It's "The Go-Between" by L.P. Hartley.
Ms. ANN BRASHARES (Author): The past is a foreign country: They do things differently there. That is the famous first line of "The Go-Between" by L.P. Hartley. The first time I read it, it cleared a haunting little spot in my memory, sort of like an embassy to my own foreign country.
When we first meet Leo Colston, he is a man in his mid-60s, discovering a diary he kept the cataclysmic summer he turned 13. The journal transports him, and as our narrator, he recounts that hot season with immense feeling and fullness.
It was the summer of 1900 when Leo, the impoverished only child of a widowed mother, went to stay with the rich family of a school friend. And it was at their rented country estate, Brandham, where he became enthralled with his friend's older sister Marian.
She was engaged to Viscount Trimingham, the likeable lord of Brandham, a man of stable nature who was disfigured in the Boer War. Eager to be needed, Leo guilelessly works his way to the center of the scandalous affair and the betrayal of an honorable man.
I don't want to spoil the suspense of a well-made plot because you must read this, but let's just say it goes really badly, and the messenger, shockingly, gets blamed.
And here the mirror cracks; the boy who leaves Brandham is not the one who came. Indeed, the narrator converses with his old self as though he were two people. That was the powerful gonging left by my first read: What, if anything, bundles us through time into a single person?
The epilogue brings us back to present Leo in his 60s returning to a Brandham he can barely recognize. The angle of vision makes a difference: I was a foot taller than when I had seen it last, he remembers.
There he finds some version of the old players: Marian, the dowager viscountess living by the river in a modest house nobody visits, and her estranged grandson, also vanquished by the past. When her grandson asks if there had been a telephone at Brandham in Leo's time, Leo replies: It might have made a great difference if there had been.
When I read the book again many years later, my angle of vision made a difference. The voice of Leo's boyhood self, the mood of his memory, is so richly persuasive I end up with an impression that is perhaps the opposite of everything the narrator claims.
His is not an identity cracked in two but a remarkably continuous one. If anything, he remains exactly that boy, stunted and fixed. If the past is a foreign country, Leo never left it. He's still living there, speaking the language quite fluently, and that's how he evokes it for us so beautifully.
NORRIS: Ann Brashares is the author of "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." If you want to discuss this and other books with NPR listeners, you can join the NPR Facebook community. Just search for NPRBooks and click like. To find a complete list of recommendations for this summer's best books, go to the Summer Books section of our website, npr.org.
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