Review published on November 10, 2017.
This book contains contributions from 46 people – writers of fiction, nonfiction and art, and an MP too. Solicited in response to the decision to leave the European Union, there is an amalgam of names here, of Brits from all over the UK working in a range of roles. The pieces reflect on not just the political decision and the processes that have followed, but the authors’ relationships to Europe both now and in the past. A number of them focus on ancestors or relatives from abroad – reflecting the scale of multi-cultural Britain.
Although these pieces have been created for this particular time, a limited number carry the bitterness of part of the dialogue that has developed. But collectively they reflect the very broad range of thoughts that have been evolving before, through and since the vote. Versions of what you can hear around you every day. Like me, you might find that some seem “to be written in an unknown or foreign language” – but this is apparently a measure of our times, we are told that everybody has an opinion on everything (yes?) and will immediately respond in print and in sound bites too. But outside that, this seems so very much of the moment – but I wonder if it will become a classic text too, an important historical marker in the future.
As I review this book am I expecting the metaphorical brick through the window? This question is the measure of the impact of this volume. A political decision taken months ago and in reality so little change as of yet, but the urgency and depth of so many responses.
So many views, thoughts and ideas flooded through my mind as I read it. Yes, of course a book is a dialogue between the author and the reader, but this one left my mind buzzing – and as I mentioned the things I had read to others, the ripples spread into conversations around me too. So looking back it is hard to untangle what I read and the response. I would rather still think these things through than write this review. Does that comment sufficiently on the impact of this book?
What can I remember (other than the rare vitriol)? I can recall a number of evocative memoirs of people’s visits and stays in various European countries over the last 40 years, many of them by well-respected novelists moving across genres with ease. I can recall the slightly more” political” or issue led texts of several of the academics or journalists. A number of the authors refer back to their families’ first arrival in Britain as immigrants, and not all from Europe – but nevertheless putting a wider historical perspective of years into the debate. And I must say, as a voracious reader of fiction I was left ashamed by my recent failure to read all the Lionel Shriver novels waiting on my shelves – she uses fiction to skewer modern times and issues with such pin point accuracy, what an outstanding writer. But I was constantly reminded that I must pay more attention to others of the authors here too.
Overall impression – this was a really stimulating read. Not just the concept of the responses to “the times we live in” and the “most important decision……” but if you are a reader the opportunity to see the scale and breadth of the quality of so many writers out there. I am sure this is a book that will have book groups abuzz for hours. But just read it.
Hilary White 5/5
Goodbye Europe: Writers and Artists Say Farewell
W&N 9781409177548 hbk Nov 2017