10 June 2016

Ten books that bring us closer to Europe

by Eli Keren Opinion

With the Brexit vote just around the corner, we at Curtis Brown Creative are nailing our ‘Remain’ colours firmly to the mast. We have students from all over Europe studying on our creative writing courses, and we firmly believe the UK publishing industry and UK writers are best served by Britain staying within the EU. While we know, of course, that not all writers are in that same camp, we urge you to look at some of the excellent articles that have been written recently, such as this one by Baroness Gail Rebuck, chair of Penguin Random House’s British operations, and this one by Denis MacShane in the Bookseller (among many other industries alongside). Do, in any case, vote. And here are ten books that make us feel close to Europe and remind us of the strength to be found in unity.

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Us tells the story of Douglass Peterson’s attempt to reconstruct his crumbling family, strengthening their ties on a trip across Europe. When Connie, after 25 years of marriage, announces that she’s leaving him, instead of cancelling the family holiday, Douglass treats it as an opportunity to rekindle his marriage and bond with his teenage son. Their disastrous month-long art tour of the capitals of Europe, manages to be charming, British and European all at once.


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, by Graham Robb

Manchester born Graham Robb did his research not only by traditional methods, but also by cycling 14,000 miles around France. Cycling inserts the human element back into research, allowing personal research into local produce, geographical patters and regional weather, all the while rendering friendly conversation with passers-by inevitable. Robb’s love for the country, and for Europe in general, sings from the pages of the book, so if you don’t feel like employing your EU-granted Right to Reside, have a flick through this book and see what you’re missing.

 

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Curtis Brown Creative’s Rufus Purdy’s favourite from Henning Mankell’s classic detective series. Protagonist Kurt Wallander would be just as home in inspector Rebus’s Edinburgh as he is in southern Sweeden. His personal issues – divorce, estrangement from children, diabetes, a worry about a rapidly changing society and particularly immigration prove that Johnny Foreigner has exactly the same concerns as your average Englishman.

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Set in the Dark Ages after the Roman occupation of Britain, it’s a plea for tolerance between communities (in this case native Britons and incoming Saxons). The Buried Giant is, at its core, a heart wrenching tale of a couple searching for their lost son, and through it, Ishiguro reminds us that to make an enemy out of an Other is often simply a device to avoid stirring memories of ourselves.

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If there’s one thing that’s sure to make us pine for closer ties with Europe, it’s a reminder of how bad things were before. Look no further than this classic Cold War spy thriller. Panic, mistrust and the constant, implicit fear of nuclear Armageddon – we’ve come too far to head backwards now.

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The Cold War was a long time ago. By the standards of our rapidly progressing society, it’s practically ancient history, but we don’t have to look that far back to see Europe tearing itself apart. Back in the early ’90s, ethnic conflicts following the breakup of Yugoslavia claimed countless lives. Take read of CBC Alumna Annabelle Thorpe’s The People We Were Before, set in Croatia shortly before the establishment of the modern EU. The balance between unity and independence is a delicate one, but this harrowing account of the bitter struggle between the Serbs and the Croats makes a strong case for the former.

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In the fifth installment of Giordano Bruno’s adventures, this Italian spy infiltrates the French court to protect the English queen. And just think, all of his efforts would have been impossible if not for freedom of movement. My money says Bruno would be voting to remain on June 23rd.

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Europe has a lot of beauty to offer. Prospero’s Cell is such a vivid description of the natural wonders of the island of Corfu, to read it is to walk beside Durrell himself, shoulder-to-shoulder, and breath the majesty of the landscape into your very lungs. Which is good, because when travel prices skyrocket and holiday visas take months to procure, that might be the closest we get.

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If your taste is a little more academic, and you want hard facts and well-crafted rhetoric, European Spring is my pick for you. Not only does it skillfully communicate where Europe ‘went wrong’ to leave us in the situation that’s providing the fuel to the No campaign’s fires, but it also maps a path to ‘go right’ and fix the situation we’ve created. Spoiler alert: it’s not leaving the EU.

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Elif Şafak weaves an extraordinary tale of clashing cultures, family curses and the struggle of modernisation. Turkey has been trying for years to join the EU. It’s launched a national campaign to boost its chances of reaping all the benefits that membership brings, all the benefits that we’d be throwing away. Once we’re out, there may well be no going back.

For an in-depth course as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission) with a great tutor and participation from our literary agents, apply for:

Six-Month Novel-Writing Course in London with Christopher Wakling (deadline for applications is Wed 17 January).

Six-Month Online Novel-Writing Course with Lisa O’Donnell (deadline for applications is Wed 24 January).

For a dedicated online course for those writing for young adults or children as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission), with a top children’s author, apply for: 

Writing YA and Children’s Fiction with Catherine Johnson (deadline for applications is Sun 28 Jan).

We are offering three low-cost ‘foundation’ courses, featuring tuition from CBC director Anna Davis:

Starting to Write Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 15 January).

Write to the End of Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 22 January).

Edit & Pitch Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 29 January).

 

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