Review 2019: Edith Trilogy Read-Along: Cold Light

In this third book of Moorhouse’s Edith trilogy, the League of Nations having closed and Edith’s hopes of getting a job with the United Nations dashed, Edith has decided to move back to Australia, thinking that Canberra will “snap her up.” (I was surprised that she thought this after her last job hunt in Australia.) Her husband Ambrose has managed to get a position with the British but is not happy to be there, and Edith has been back for months without any job offers. Her lack of an official title at the League, its spectacular failure, and sexism seem to be getting in her way.

Then her brother Frederick, who disappeared from the family 20 years ago, makes himself known to her. He is an organizer for the Communist party, a true believer. Talk is building up about banning the party in Australia, and in the U. S., Senator McCarthy is building power around this issue, so Edith isn’t sure what to do about Frederick and his girlfriend Janice.

Edith learns that the Canberra government isn’t hiring married women, but she eventually gets a temporary position organizing a conference about the design of the city. When the opportunity comes, she and Ambrose have just decided to move back to Europe and she thinks the job is beneath her, but by the end of the interview, she is sucked in. Of course, she uses this position to shoehorn herself into more opportunity.

I have been ambivalent about this series. At times, it is really interesting, while at other times it dwells too long on the details of some subject. For, continuing on with the theme of Edith being involved in world events of her time, there is a great deal of discussion of Communism from both sides as well as the ramifications of passing a law against it. (Edith has a long discussion with her old mentor, John Latham, a supreme court judge, who she believes voted wrongly on the issue, and it turns tedious.) The novel also deals with uranium and nuclear bombs vs. nuclear energy, as Edith makes herself an expert on uranium.

My other problem is that Edith has always seemed unconvincing to me as a woman. She is a bold and impulsive woman, true, but some of the things she does and the way she thinks don’t seem like the actions and thoughts of any woman I can imagine.

On a related issue, I was kind of fascinated by the cross-dressing aspect of her relationship to Ambrose and the emphasis on it—because there is no such emphasis on any of her other husbands. Robert is around for a millisecond, and she rarely mentions Richard after she marries him except in terms of his kids—not until she decides to leave him, at which point suddenly a chapter is devoted to their relationship.

Thinking about what Moorhouse chooses to talk about and what he ignores brought me to this conclusion. Authors often invest themselves in their characters by imagining that they are their main character (or some other). For a long time, I thought Moorhouse saw himself as Ambrose, but I finally decided that either he saw himself as both Ambrose and Edith herself or perhaps simply as Edith.

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Review 1999: Edith Trilogy Read-Along: Dark Palace

The Edith Trilogy Read-Along calls for the second book to be read during July. This second book, Dark Palace follows Edith and the fate of the League of Nations from 1931 through the end of World War II. Although most of it is set in Geneva, Edith also visits Australia and the United States.

This novel begins roughly one year after the close of Grand Days. Edith and Robert have been married about a year, but Edith feels she has misunderstood Robert’s character. For one thing, he is not really dedicated to the success of the League, and she sometimes finds him crass. She takes the opportunity of Ambrose Westwood’s return to Geneva and Robert’s departure to cover the Spanish Civil War to rekindle her unusual affair with Ambrose.

At the League, she is considered an expert on protocol but still does not have an official title. At the beginning of the novel, she and other League officers are excitedly preparing for the conference on disarmament they are hosting.

This novel, like many middle novels in a trilogy, has a less focused plot than the first. Edith, at one point, considers moving back to Australia and visits the newly founded Canberra to fish for a job. But Canberra barely exists, and her fellow Australians don’t seem impressed by her accomplishments. The novel skips in an episodic way through several events during the war.

There are times in the novel when Edith’s didacticism is really annoying. What the novel does have, however, is a deeply affecting conclusion.

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Review 1887: Edith Trilogy Read-Along: Grand Days

I decided to participate in the Edith Trilogy Read-Along hosted by Brona of This Reading Life, but my copy didn’t arrive until June 29th, so I am late for the first one, which was to be read in June. I hope to be on time for the second in the series. This series introduces me to Frank Moorhouse, a highly regarded Australian writer.

On a train from Paris to Geneva to work at the newly created League of Nations, Edith Campbell Berry meets Major Ambrose Westwood, who will be a more senior officer in another section of the League. Edith is naïve and dedicated, a quirky person who has her Ways of Going but is determined to become more cosmopolitan than her Australian roots have made her so far. On the train, she and Ambrose share a kiss.

Edith and her coworkers are excited to be working for this important organization with its worldwide focus and its aim to prevent war. Edith conscientiously studies diplomacy from Ambrose and other senior officers and makes contributions of her own, enough to attract their attention and mentorship.

She does not always make the right choices and finds herself in some ridiculous situations. She also begins an affair with Ambrose, whose unusual proclivities lead her in unexpected directions.

At first, I wasn’t sure how much I liked Edith, particularly her habit of listing and examining what she thinks she knows and her almost aggressive questioning of ideas until she’s sure she understands them. I also noticed that she seemed not to pay much attention to events developing in Europe toward the end of the 20’s. But eventually I was charmed by her.

There were some pages toward the middle of the book when she was enumerating ideas that I skipped after reading several paragraphs, and shortly thereafter, when she was contemplating her poop, a scene I know was supposed to be funny, I was not amused. Still, I’m interested to read Cold Light, the next novel, especially because the book cover description contains a detail that I hope is wrong.

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