On December 13th 1943 at the age of 24 Primo Levi, a chemist from Turin was captured by the Fascist militia and giving his status as an ‘Italian citizen of Jewish race’ was taken via the detention camp at Fossoli to Auschwitz. Of the 650 who arrived the children, the old men and most of the women were ‘swallowed up by the night’. Ninety six men and twenty nine women entered the camps of Monowitz-Buna and Birkenau. The rest were sent to the gas chamber, only 3 made the return journey home. The story of his journey home is told in The Truce.
What in the world is going on here? I thought Gulliver’s Travels was all about tiny people and giants, but no, Jonathan Swift’s imagination is extraordinary to say the least. Lemuel Gulliver recalls the zaniest adventures as he travels first as a ships surgeon and then as Captain to Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa and to the Houyhnhnms. A companionable chap he narrates it all in a jolly, matter of fact, chatty way, that is bawdy, crude, ridiculous and sometimes very funny.
It’s always a treat to pick up a Dorothy Whipple and know that you’re going to be completely immersed in a new family. In this case it was the Pritchard’s and in particular Anne, the youngest child. We’re told at the beginning that she’s five and through a sporadic time line (and pots of tea, tomato sandwiches and a good supply of rock cakes) we stay with her into young adulthood.
Young Anne is about characters rather than plot, full of the homely and ordinary but the truthfulness in the detail is told with such a dry wit that it’s never dull. Published in 1927 I thought the family had a decidedly Edwardian feel to them, more so than other Whipple novels I’ve read. Henry Pritchard, Anne’s father, ‘very straight and thin’ his lips always in ‘creases of disapproval’ rules the house with a sombre mood expecting to be obeyed and it’s this atmosphere that pervades Anne’s life. But even here in her first novel, Dorothy Whipple shows the restraint that makes her characters so completely believable.