The faded but still brave word ‘grand’ in the title of Frank Moorhouse’s new novel gives a signal from another age, the 1920s, when after the war-to-end-all-wars there were grand ideals and grand hotels. It is also fitting that the League of Nations, the setting for the book, should in the 1920s have had its headquarters in Geneva in a former luxury hotel, while its own rather unfortunately named Palais was being built.
But this is no period or historical novel. Moorhouse has, with brilliant intuition, rummaged in what he calls ‘a trunk in the attic of history which has not been properly opened’, the archives of the League. Being Moorhouse, he also does not flinch at improprieties. His central character, Edith Campbell Berry as she determinedly calls herself, is twenty-six when she finds herself on the train from Paris to Geneva, fresh from Australia. She is an intelligent idealist, a hard worker but imaginative. She has also a great gift for startling not only the reader but herself.