Grand Days Synopsis
On a train from Paris to Geneva, Edith Campbell Berry meets Major Ambrose Westwood in the dining car, makes his acquaintance over a lunch of six courses, and allows him to kiss her passionately. Their early intimacy binds them together once they reach Geneva and their posts at the newly created League of Nations. There, a heady idealism prevails over Edith and her young colleagues, and nothing seems beyond their grasp, certainly not world peace. The exuberance of the times carries over into Geneva nights: Edith is drawn into a dark and glamorous underworld where, coaxed by Ambrose, she becomes more and more sexually adventurous. Grand Days is vivid and wise, full of shocks of recognition and revelation. (TheNile – Aus)
Grand Days is the first book in the much acclaimed Edith Trilogy by Australian author Frank Moorhouse. Edith is not just the story’s central character, she is the story. She is young, idealistic and approaches life and all its challenges (big and small) with a feeling of empowerment and her own brand of objective and experimental reasoning – her ‘rules to live by’.
It wasn’t that Australia was not a ‘real’ place, full of real people doing real things, finding happiness, making families, practising the arts of friendship, practising the arts of politics, and practising, albeit in a youthful way, the arts and scholarship – doing all the things she knew mattered in life. It was that she needed now in her life to put herself in a position which made her productively nervous. Even if it was a bit uncomfortable at times. She had to be where she didn’t know quite what was happening next, to be living precipitously. She wanted to be in the presence of people who made her a little nervous. She wanted to be among objects, buildings and art works which made her mindful and sentient, which could cause her, now and then, to be in awe.
If these were Edith’s only attributes then one would ask, how is this character appealing? It is these attributes coupled with at times acute naivety and bouts of racking self-doubt that make for engrossing inner dialogue shared with the reader.
Perhaps this evening she would find out about romances begun on trains with older men. Perhaps kisses on trains and meals taken together counted for nothing in Europe. Or had she already begun a romance? Surely she should know whether she had. She put that aside, sat at her desk and assumed a serious posture.
Grand Days by Frank Moorhouse is one of the most engrossing, captivating, and at more than 700 pages, most decadent character studies I have read.
There were passages where decadence won over endearment, but for the most part I was intrigued by Edith’s story. You never quite knew what might happen next – no subject matter is off limits. Moorhouse’s brutally honest approach to telling the tale shows Edith in all her glory and her shame. She is human, she makes mistakes. She makes friendships and but also ends them. She is at times resolute but often capricious. As such, you will not always like what she does, but you will always care what happens to her.
Moorhouse’s descriptions of Geneva and Paris are fascinating and I particularly enjoyed learning so much about events in history I previously knew little about. The thorough research undertaken by Moorhouse in writing Grand Days is on full display. The admirable yet naive idealism of Edith mirror that of The League of Nations movement itself. Reading of such altruism and belief in the power of cooperation is refreshing years on in our often jaded modern society.
The at times languorous writing style and introspection may not be to everyone’s tastes but those who make the commitment to read Grand Days by Frank Moorhouse will be commensurately rewarded.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5
Have you read Grand Days? Do you want to?
Join the discussion below.
The review counts towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2012.
Author Information: Frank Moorhouse was born in the coastal town of Nowra, NSW. He worked as an editor of small-town newspapers and as an administrator and in the 1970s became a full-time writer. He has written fiction, non fiction, screenplays and essays and edited many collections of writing. Forty Seventeen was given a laudatory full-page review by Angela Carter in the New York Times and was named Book of the Year by the Age and ‘moral winner’ of the Booker Prize by the London magazine Blitz. Grand Days, the first novel in The Edith Trilogy, won the SA Premier’s Award for Fiction. Dark Palace won the Miles Franklin Literary Award and was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Award, the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award and the Age Book of the Year Award. He recently won the Queensland Literary Award for Fiction for Cold Light. Frank has undertaken numerous fellowships and his work has been translated into several languages. He was made a member of the Order of Australia for services to literature in 1985 and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Griffith University in 1997.
Other reviews of Grand Days: Publisher’s Weekly