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First published in 1953, in this book Leo looks back to the summer of 1900 when he turned thirteen and was as full of optimism as the new century. Invited to stay at Brandham Hall by a school friend, he allows himself to get embroiled with the adults whose behaviour he simply isn't equipped to understand. And as the temperature rises, so over-heated emotions turn to a tragedy which will mark Leo's entire life.

This is a brilliant portrayal of a boy's first brush with the complexities of the adult world (we should remember that youth was far younger then than it is now). The blind and youthful confidence of Leo echoes that of the century, certainly the `ruling classes', having a final high-point before the devastation of the first world war sweeps away at least some of the old social certainties.

But at heart this is as much a novel about the clash of innocence and experience as it is about the old and dawning twentieth century worlds. Leo's artless relationships with the beautiful Marian, the scarred and gentlemanly viscount, and the charismatic village farmer Ted Burgess lead him to participate in, and even try to manipulate, a situation which is increasingly out of control.

It is worth recognising that this draws on Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde where Pandarus describes himself as a 'go-between' ('meene' in middle English), an allusion which serves to complicate our reading of Hartley's novel and which poses interesting questions about the characters.

Beautifully-crafted and imagined, this is a fine study of lost innocence and haunting betrayal.
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Resembling both McEwan's Atonement and Frayn's Spies in its plot, this 1953 novel, recently reprinted, tells of a pre-adolescent's naive meddling in the love lives of elders, with disastrous results. Set in the summer of 1900, when the hopes and dreams for the century were as yet untarnished by two world wars and subsequent horrors, this novel is quietly elegant in style, its emotional upheavals restrained, and its 12-year-old main character, Leo Colston, so earnest, hopeful, and curious about life that the reader cannot help but be moved by his innocence.
Leo's summer visit to a friend at Brandham Hall introduces him to the landed gentry, the privileges they have assumed, and the strict social behaviors which guide their everyday lives. Bored and wanting to be helpful when his friend falls ill, Leo agrees to be a messenger carrying letters between Marian, his host's sister, and Ted Burgess, her secret love, a farmer living nearby. Catastrophe is inevitable--and devastating to Leo.
In descriptive and nuanced prose, Hartley evokes the heat of summer and the emotional conflicts it heightens, the intensity rising along with the temperature. Magic spells, creatures of the zodiac, and mythology create an overlay of (chaste) paganism for Leo's perceptions, while widening the scope of Hartley's focus and providing innumerable parallels and symbols for the reader.
The emotional impact of the climax is tremendous, heightened by the author's use of three perspectives--Leo Colston as a man in his 60's, permanently damaged by events when he was 12; Leo as a 12-year-old, wrestling with new issues of class, social obligation, friendship, morality, and love, while inadvertently causing a disaster; and the reader himself, for whom hindsight and knowledge of history create powerful ironies as he views these events and the way of life they represent. Mary Whipple
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on 17 February 2011
This is a great novel. Whenever I think of it the first thing that comes to mind is the stultifying summer heat which permeates nearly every page. That oppressive heat helps to create the perfect backdrop for the drama as it unfolds. I agree with the comparisons with Spies and Atonement - as in those novels, the writer portrays aspects of adolescence brilliantly - limited understanding of the world of grown-ups, and powerlessness (up to a point) in the face of their manipulation. The characters leap off the page, convincing if not always likeable, and the story is so well told that it is a page turner from the very start. Really well worth reading.
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on 4 July 2010
The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there ... from the first sentence I was entranced by this masterpiece of a novel, set during an Edwardian summer heatwave - you can feel the tension building as the thermometer rises. This is one of the best novels of adolescence that I have ever read. Leo Colston, now an old man, looks back on a long country house visit in the summer of 1900 which seemed then to be the dawn of a golden age. He becomes embroiled as the messenger-boy in a love triangle between the beautiful daughter of the house, the wounded hero she is expected to marry and a throbbingly-sexy farmer.
A brilliant evocation of an innocent boy groping his way in an adult world that he is ill-equipped to understand. A classic.
0Comment|6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Resembling both McEwan's Atonement and Frayn's Spies in its plot, this 1953 novel, recently reprinted, tells of a pre-adolescent's naive meddling in the love lives of elders, with disastrous results. Set in the summer of 1900, when the hopes and dreams for the century were as yet untarnished by two world wars and subsequent horrors, this novel is quietly elegant in style, its emotional upheavals restrained, and its 12-year-old main character, Leo Colston, so earnest, hopeful, and curious about life that the reader cannot help but be moved by his innocence.
Leo's summer visit to a friend at Brandham Hall introduces him to the landed gentry, the privileges they have assumed, and the strict social behaviors which guide their everyday lives. Bored and wanting to be helpful when his friend falls ill, Leo agrees to be a messenger carrying letters between Marian, his host's sister, and Ted Burgess, her secret love, a farmer living nearby. Catastrophe is inevitable--and devastating to Leo. In descriptive and nuanced prose, Hartley evokes the heat of summer and the emotional conflicts it heightens, the intensity rising along with the temperature. Magic spells, creatures of the zodiac, and mythology create an overlay of (chaste) paganism for Leo's perceptions, while widening the scope of Hartley's focus and providing innumerable parallels and symbols for the reader.
The emotional impact of the climax is tremendous, heightened by the author's use of three perspectives--Leo Colston as a man in his 60's, permanently damaged by events when he was 12; Leo as a 12-year-old, wrestling with new issues of class, social obligation, friendship, morality, and love, while inadvertently causing a disaster; and the reader himself, for whom hindsight and knowledge of history create powerful ironies as he views these events and the way of life they represent. Some readers have commented on Leo's unrealistic innocence in matters of sex, even as a 12-year-old, but this may be a function of age. For those of us who can remember life without TV and the computer, it is not so far-fetched to imagine a life in which "mass communication" meant the telegraph and in which "spooning" was an adults-only secret. Mary Whipple
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VINE VOICEon 11 April 2010
I would put L P Hartley in the Premier League of English novelists. This book encapsulates so much of what it means to be English. I have been exposed to the pretensions of Edwardian England in my family, and I got the full Monty from the public school system. I also had a traumatic experiences with a beautiful woman in my late teens, which I've never really got over, so I found the narrative beguiling and enthralling.

Hartley dramatises the teenage Madonna syndrome of idolising beautiful women. Some men can never reconcile the mature sexual woman that comes with it, particularly when the initiation to adulthood is so wrapped up with repression and social pressures. Marian's aloof and rather manipulative ways do explain why some English men are wary of getting involved. I like Ted, he's far more vital and human.

The descriptions are vivid, the world of public schoolboys is depicted with brilliance, I identified with Leo completely. This is the best novel I have read in years.
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on 12 February 2014
In the exceptionally hot summer of 1900, Leo Colston is invited to spend the holidays with his wealthy classmate Marcus Maudsley and his family at Brandham Hall in Norfolk. Worried he will not fit in (coming from a middle-class family with little wealth), Leo desperately tries to make a good impression and in so doing becomes mixed up in the affair between Marian Maudsley, the daughter of the family, and local farmer Ted Burgess. With his hopeful and innocent outlook on the world and the new century laid out before him, Leo attempts to make sense of the relationship between these two adults, but ultimately assists in bringing about an event that will have a profound effect on him for the rest of his life.

Hartley's languid prose, filled with evocative descriptions of hot summer days spent in idle activity as the temperature steadily rises, reminded me very much of my own childhood. But interspersed with this is an underlying sense of slowly building dread; you know something terrible is going to happen, but you're never sure quite when or what it will be. Hartley's writing is very clever, putting you directly into the shoes of Leo and making you feel as helpless as he does. He knows instinctively that what he is doing - acting as a go-between for two people who should know better - is wrong, but he's too powerless and too innocent to stop it.

Leo is an engaging lead character; I felt for him and the situation he is so unfairly put in, but I also felt immense sadness for the innocence I knew he would lose by the close of summer. Other characters are not so likeable however. Marian is not, as Leo believes, a virtuous Virgin who has fallen from the heavens to live among the mortals on earth. In reality she is a manipulative young woman who uses her intelligence and beauty solely for her own means, so desperate is she to continue her relationship with Ted whilst outwardly appearing to be the model daughter everyone expects her to be. And Ted is not a tragic hero in the same vain as Romeo - he too is manipulative, using charm and fiery temper in equal measures to ensure he gets his way. Only one other character, that of Viscount Trimington, is as appealing as Leo. Scarred physically and mentally by war, he is fully aware of what is happening around him but instead turns a blind eye and acts the perfect gentleman, even though it is he that Marian is betrothed to.

Hartley's subtle descriptions of Marian's liaisons with Ted are equally well written. With his imagery of outhouse buildings under shady rhododendron bushes (the favoured spot for the lovers to meet), it is left to the imagination of the reader to decide what happens when the two are together. And although Hartley leaves us in no doubt that these two characters believe themselves to be in love, it is not the love of classic romantic fiction. It is made very clear what the repercussions will be if the affair is allowed to continue, most notably through the behaviour of the Viscount and Mrs Maudsley. Both appear at first to be grudgingly accepting of the situation, no doubt of the opinion that Marian needs to 'get it out of her system' before entering into a 'proper' marriage. But once it becomes apparent that things are heading in the 'wrong' direction they begin to realise what devastating effects it could have on everyone involved, ultimately leading to the climatic ending.

It's the mark of a good novel when you're left wanting more, which this certainly did. Even though the ends are tied up nicely, there were still questions I wanted answering. Did Marian - and Ted for that matter - really like Leo or were they just using him for their own selfish means? Why did Leo never attempt to put the past behind him and build a life for himself after the events of that summer? And more intriguingly, how did Marian and Ted meet in the first place? I know these are questions I'll never have answers to, but they'll always be ones that spring to mind when I think of this book. I'm looking forward to seeing the film adaptation now. I just hope it's as good...
0Comment|10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Resembling both Ian McEwan's Atonement and Michael Frayn's Spies in its plot, this 1953 novel, recently reprinted, tells of a pre-adolescent's naive meddling in the love lives of elders, with disastrous results. Set in the summer of 1900, when the hopes and dreams for the century were as yet untarnished by two world wars and their subsequent horrors, this novel is quietly elegant in style, its emotional upheavals restrained, and its 12-year-old main character, Leo Colston, so earnest, hopeful, and curious about life that the reader cannot help but be moved by his innocence.

Leo's summer visit to a friend at Brandham Hall introduces him to the landed gentry, the privileges they have assumed, and the strict social behaviors which guide their everyday lives. Bored and wanting to be helpful when his friend falls ill, Leo agrees to be a messenger carrying letters between Marian, his host's sister, and Ted Burgess, her secret love, a farmer living nearby.

Catastrophe is inevitable--and devastating to Leo. In descriptive and nuanced prose, Hartley evokes the heat of summer and the emotional conflicts it heightens, the intensity rising along with the temperature. Magic spells, creatures of the zodiac, and mythology create an overlay of (chaste) paganism for Leo's perceptions, while widening the scope of Hartley's focus and providing innumerable parallels and symbols for the reader.

The emotional impact of the climax is tremendous, heightened by the author's use of three perspectives--Leo Colston, the speaker, as a man in his 60's, permanently damaged by events when he was 12; Leo as a 12-year-old, wrestling with new issues of class, social obligation, friendship, morality, and love, while inadvertently causing a disaster; and the reader himself, for whom hindsight and knowledge of history create powerful ironies as he views these events and the way of life they represent.

Some modern critics have commented on Leo's unrealistic innocence in matters of sex, even as a 12-year-old, but this may be a function of age. For those of us who can remember life without TV and the computer, it is not so far-fetched to imagine a life in which "mass communication" meant the telegraph and in which love and love-making were adults-only secrets. Mary Whipple
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Amazing. My reading contains two strands: crime novels, peppered every four or five books with a piece of "proper" literature. Both types of book serve their purpose, but both offer a completely different kind of experience, and this is exemplified well by this book. Reading this was a completely, vastly, infinitely different kind of pleasure. I shan't hesitate in calling a masterpiece, as it is. A brilliant evocation of a young boy's catastrophic collision with an adult world he just cannot properly understand. His rationalisations of motives and feelings is conveyed brilliantly - and one is aware of a great sense of tragedy, rather than blame. the adults are not exactly to blame for the exploitation of the boy, for they fail to comprehend his own failure of comprehension.

everying is wrought perfectly: it's a beautiful, if inherently sad book. a book about class, love, society, naivety, nostalgia, and innocent youth. it's the definite cousin of ian mcewan's atonement, and deserves to be every bit as popular. (plus, it contains the most brilliant and tense description of a game of cricket that i have come across in literature (not that they're exactly ten-a-penny anyway, but oh well...), and i have no fondness for the game whatsoever.)

a must-read, this. an absolute classic.
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on 7 July 2010
The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there ... from the first sentence I was entranced by this masterpiece of a novel, set during an Edwardian summer heatwave - you can feel the tension building as the thermometer rises. This is one of the best novels of adolescence that I have ever read. Leo Colston, now an old man, looks back on a long country house visit in the summer of 1900 which seemed then to be the dawn of a golden age. He becomes embroiled as the messenger-boy in a love triangle between the beautiful daughter of the house, the wounded hero she is expected to marry and a throbbingly-sexy farmer.
A brilliant evocation of an innocent boy groping his way in an adult world that he is ill-equipped to understand. A classic.
0Comment|18 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

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