Friday, May 01, 2009

Maybe This Is What They're Talking About

Some authors who have written for adults and for kids/YA say they prefer writing for younger readers because younger readers are more demanding and less tolerant of things like, say, indulgent padding on the part of writers. I kept thinking of that as I read The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley.

I sought out The Go-Between for one reason: Its prologue begins with the line "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." I've always loved the line, even though I didn't know where it came from. I can't say that I understand how it pertains to the book that follows it since (modest spoiler) the main character is carrying on at the end pretty much as he did fifty years before. So what is it that was done differently in the past?

You know how I've gone on and on about how I keep stumbling upon father books? Well, The Go-Between isn't one of them. It is, however, an adult book with a child main character, another type of novel I keep finding myself attracted to.

Leo, writing in the 1950s, is recalling the summer of 1900 when, for a few weeks just before he turned thirteen, he stayed with a well-to-do boarding school classmate and his family. He is very taken with his friend's older sister and when he ends up serving as a messenger between her and one of the local farmers, he doesn't realize that he's helping them carry on an illicit romantic relationship.

(Lady Chatterly's Lover meets Atonement. In fact, Ian McEwan provides one of the blurbs for the edition of The Go-Between that I read.)

This story's bones are marvelous. I've been trying to think of any YA novel has covered the same material but truly as YA, not as an adult book with an adult protagonist recalling the experience. And the writing is elegant.

There is just so much of it. Any scene that could be covered nicely in paragraphs goes on for pages. And pages. And a scene that needed a few pages went on forever.

I am willing to concede that maybe I'm just not up to this type of literary reading. But I would also like to consider the possibility that this is what those writers I was talking about in the first paragraph were referring to when they said that adult readers put up with a lot from their writers.

On a more positive note, I think The Go-Between has the best epilogue I've ever read. I usually don't like them. They seem like some little tack-on to make readers who can't give up their characters a look into a happy future. Someone has her dead lover's baby, so we can all feel good about that. Everyone grows up and marries the person they were attracted to at school, which is supposed to make us happy. You know what I mean. But this one actually adds to the story and even extends it. Very good.

Training Report: Two segments for the 365 Story Project, and I finally started an essay I've been thinking about for a while. While I am concerned that I haven't got the next few Project segments planned, which will almost certainly mean I won't be doing any writing over the weekend, I did do some research for background for one of the characters and his family. And since that background involves yoga, it is appropriate for me to refer you to Ogden: The Inappropriate Yoga Guy.

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