In the opening of the prologue in the novel The Go-Between, the past is already mentioned in the first line; “The past is a foreign country they do things differently there.” (Page 5, The Go-Between) Whilst the narrative carries on to speak in first person; describing to the reader Leo Colston’s childhood and reminiscing about the past, already, the reader has a preconceived idea that the past will play an important role and will most likely have an effect on the history that is recalled. However, we may question the validity of Leo Colston’s memory as he is reciting the story for the first time since being a young boy, which was when the story actually happened. L.P Hartley has set out the narrative as such to emphasise how much of an effect that particular summer had on Leo’s life and how the diary he has found is proving difficult to read, almost foreshadowing the negative impacts that we will read about later on in the novel. Evidence that supports the idea that the history he is remembering has evidently had such an adverse, negative impression, so much so that Leo “did not want to touch it” (Page 5, The Go-Between), ‘it’ being the diary of his fifteen year old self. Leo cannot bring himself to pick the diary up straight away, which also allows Hartley to build up suspense as refraining from telling the reader straight away why Leo will not open the diary entices us as readers even more. Describing the inanimate diary as something almost supernatural and alive, for example; “It seemed to me that every object in the room exhaled the diary’s enervating power,” (Page 6, The Go-Between) connotes unease with the narrative voice, Leo is clearly starting to remember what he has written an as it is making him feel uncomfortable, that feeling is also passed across to the reader. Using the adverb ‘enervating’ to describe a diary gives off the impression that Leo is unstable, feeling as though an inanimate object is draining you also supports the idea that whatever is in that diary has really traumatised him.
Finally when Leo builds up his courage to open the diary, he does so in a way that is extremely overdramatic; “So I told myself, and with a gesture born of will, as most of my acts were, not inclination, I took the diary out of the box and opened it.” (Page 7, the Go-Between) Leo is building himself up to be a brave character, making this task out to be extremely difficult when in reality Leo just comes across as quite cowardly instead. Leo spends a long time describing each of the zodiac signs the diary has depicted “each somehow contriving to suggest a plenitude of life and power, each glorious.”1 Although Leo has finally opened the diary, we as readers still feel agitated as Hartley is purposefully prolonging the telling of the story that left Leo in such a state. Leo mentions he “remembered the catastrophe well enough, but not the stages that led up to it,” (Page 9, The Go-Between) being careful not to give anything away, he rambles on about his school life and getting bullied all to add to Leo as a character and the ultimate reason as to why he has become so troubled in later life. Not only does this build the character of Leo’s older self but also gives an insight into him as a child, Leo and the reader are almost meeting his former self for the first time as he has not come back to this time in his life since the ‘catastrophe’ happened. As well as character building, Hartley allows the reader an insight on the strange relationship Leo had with his diary as he treats it like a person and a friend. From getting bullied to cursing the classmates who did pick on him from early on we can see Leo becoming an outsider.
1 Page 7 of The Go-Between