The Land of Make-Believe
Switzerland Revisited. By Charles Graves. (Bles. 15s.)
ANY day just now, if you care to pay a visit to the Continental departure platforms at Victoria Station, you will see a determined crowd of well—and only passably well—dressed men and women queueing up at the barriers. In their eyes there is a look, easily recognisable, which is to be seen on the faces of all Britons who know that at last they are about to get in amongst the flesh-pots —the steaks, the cointreau, the cream cakes and, in the case of women, the nylons. For fourteen days or so, as long as their £75 holds out, they are prepared to pay through the nose in order to fill their stomachs and clothe their backs. They are bound, in short, for Switzerland. There is something rather touching about this determined and short-lived attempt to forget the rigours of life in Britain and to recapture some of those material pleasures which were a commonplace in far-away 1938. And there is some- thing rather touching about Switzerland Revisited, which has been written to cash in on this mass and motley exodus. Mr. Graves, who has lost none of his well-known ability to sense the prevailing social climate, is as determinedly gay as his intended clients (one had almost written victims). But as one reads one is, perhaps, a little conscious that the hands of the clock are moving, that the time still left is desperately short.
However, for an excursion (in only the best possible sense of the word!) into the land of sugar-cake make-believe, Charles Graves will do well enough. Those who know his previous work will not
expect Switzerland Revisited to be another Baedeker. And they will be right. Mr. Graves is more at home in Montmartre than on Mont Blanc, and readers who are looking for a guide book pure and simple should turn their attention elsewhere. It is true that he throws an occasional bone to the "cathedral hound," but it would be idle to pretend that his descriptions of conventional " sights " match his enthusiastic reports on aspects of Swiss culinary and night life. His Switzerland is the Switzerland of the glossy illustrated weeklies, and as such should fit the mood of the majority of this year's tourists. It is not, of course, the real Switzerland any more than the Ritz Grill is the real London. But there are many, and I am among them, who would rather holiday at the Ritz than, for instance, in Stepney. For them, for us, Mr. Graves is the man.
Of course it would be idle to deny that there are difficulties confronting the author of this sort of book. Obviously, when a country is seen from the back seat of a high-powered car—and Mr. Graves has the knack of travelling in comfort even in these days—it is impossible to present the same detailed and methodical picture as the man in something less of a hurry. It is surprising that Mr. Graves's snap-shot technique (brief history, sketchy descrip- tion, appropriate anecdote) allows us to see as much of the country as it does. Another difficulty which presents itself is that the interior of a bar in Switzerland is uncommonly similar to the interior of a bar in Jermyn Street—or Denver if it comes to that. Even Mr. Graves must admit that when the time is ripe for a fruity, purple passage. the " cathedral hound " has a pull over the lounge-lizard. In fact he obviously does recognise this difficulty, for, in order that the customers shall have a fair measure for their fifteen shillings, he throws in a mass of heterogeneous material. Switzerland Re- visited is by way of being a classic of ingenious padding. All sorts of odds and ends are quoted frequently, extensively and, it is to be feared, unashamedly. Baedeker, a hotel brochure, a verbatim report of the Whymper climbing accident, a long digression on the gambler, M. Zographos, are some of the make-weights. There are others less entertaining.
For fifteen shillings, therefore, here is probably not more than ten shillings' worth of entertainment. But this should be no deter- rent to those who almost without a qualm are willing to spend £75 for fourteen days of good food, good drink and cream cakes—with some nylon stockings thrown in. GRAHAM WATSON.