I loved this book- it is tragic, a bit seedy, and frustrating in a fantastic way.
Leadbitter is a handsome, soulless chauffeur who lives to work.
Lady Franklin is an attractive upper-class widow, grieving for her late husband. As he drives her to country cathedrals, Leadbittter entertains her with tales of made-up domestic bliss with his wife and children. Lady Franklin slowly forgets her grief as Leadbitter gradually falls for his employer (obviously), and dramatic events ensue.
LP Hartley’s novel seems conventional, or even fairly close to The Go Between: star-crossed lovers trying to bridge a class divide. But the nuances make those comparisons simplistic. First of all, Leadbitter is cruel and sometimes obscene. Lady Franklin is naive and self-obsessed. Already more complex and less palatable as a love story.
The most striking feature of the book is that the vast majority of it takes place in the car. Hartley captures the oddity of intimate conversations that take place in earshot of a total stranger, the driver.
The class divide is never so clear as between the front and back seats of a Bentley.
Read: Before they make a long overdue TV adaptation.