"One day in the nineteen-twenties on the 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 on the lips.
"Both are heading for Geneva to posts in the newly created League of Nations and this early intimacy binds them together in a strange personal and public journey.
"Edith and her young colleagues are gathering to collaborate on a new venture of unprecedented grandeur and significance: the League of Nations is the world's first attempt to prevent war and promote human co-operation on a global scale. In those grand, glorious days nothing seemed beyond the intelligence and administrative talents of the young diplomats of the League.
"The prevailing mood of exuberance carries over into the Geneva nights. Edith, beckoned on by Ambrose, ventures into the darker recesses of the times.
"Using the riches of a great historical archive and working on a bold and imaginative scale, acclaimed novelist Frank Moorhouse has written a brilliant re-creation of a golden, all-but-forgotten era. Eerily, the preoccupations of those times echo around us now as the post-Cold War world re-encounters the same challenges and the same heightened expectations of the League in its present form as the United Nations.
"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 unplacably original."
On the train from Paris to Geneva, Edith Campbell Berry, at twenty-six, having heard the gong, made her way to the first sitting and her first lunch in a railway dining car.
She moved, in what she felt was a gathered-together way, along to the dining car, having remembered not to leave anything of value back at her seat, even if it were a first-class seat, and yet not having things in her hands - something she had a phobia about, having too many things in her hands. To have free hands allowed her to ward and hold, which she considered important in the technique of travelling. It could be considered as one of her Ways of Going. She also quickly noted to herself that, in life, she wanted to be a holding person and not always a warding person, and would describe herself as a holding person in all its meanings, which she would one day list. Fear in foreign places made one a permanent sentry, and more of a warding person than one would be in a familiar place. However, as she moved along the swaying train, trying not to need to use her hands or to lose her balance, Edith considered that she conducted her body well. In travel and in life. So far.
From the Macmillan hardback edition, 1993.
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Last modified: April 17, 2001.