Meet Edith Campbell Berry, the woman all Australian women would like to be.
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. Reading Grand Days is a rare experience: it is vivid and wise, full of shocks of recognition and revelation. The final effect of the book is intoxicating and unplaceably original.
Moorhouse is a major figure in his native Australia but little known here. The quality of this novel (apparently the first in what is to be a series about the early days of the League of Nations), however, and the reviews it has received in Australia and England, suggest he will not be an unknown much longer. For Grand Days , after a rather arch beginning, turns into a vastly beguiling character study set against a fascinating and little-known background. Edith Campbell Berry, the adventurous daughter of a freethinking Australian family who comes to the fledgling League of Nations in Geneva in the early 1920s as a young official, is one of the most winning women in contemporary fiction. Determined to live a moral life and do good works, but endlessly experimental in matters of the heart and the flesh, she becomes involved with an older man--a British officer at the League who leads an androgynous transvestite life that at once attracts and faintly repels her. When she discovers he is acting as a double agent for the British Foreign Office she betrays him and he falls into a rapid decline. Meanwhile, a dashing but hard-nosed reporter has been paying her cynical court while her career advances. Throughout it all, Edith worries endlessly--about the League and the issues it addresses and fails to address, about birth control on both a world and personal level, and even about the health of her bowels. Moorhouse never patronizes Edith and, by his close examination of her every thought and emotion, he brings a reader close to the soul of a delightfully unpredictable, usually admirable person. There is color galore--a risque interlude in Paris, a Geneva riot, political infighting, friendships made and broken, moments of real pathos and terror. The book would make an extraordinarily glamorous movie, and most actresses would brawl to play sexy, smart, plucky Edith.
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What would Edith do?
Frank Moorhouse takes the reader into the world of the smashing Edith Campbell Berry, a young Australian woman in her first years at the League of Nations. Ediths small and large moments are explored with refined detail, finesse and insight. Each time I find a ladder in my stockings or encountering a subtle power play during a meeting, I ask myself, “What would Edith do”. Ever since first reading it, Edith has remained a role model for many women, even prompting a session on Edith at the Sydney Writer’s Festival. Grand Days is a grand novel set in a grant time in Geneva.