You can’t go home again
By the Grand Canal is a quiet, thoughtful novel about a group of friends who gather again in Venice after having been separated by the First World War. Naturally, they have all, from oldest to youngest, experienced deprivation as a result of the conflict, but now they hope to regain some of their former security and happiness. It is not to be, not simply because of the changes the war has wrought, but because life goes on. Although the fighting has blessedly stopped, people still grow up and grow old, get sick, die, leave each other, and have wishes that do or do not come true. This novel has a loosely constructed plot that is more philosophy and musing than action, which is probably not to everyone’s taste. But it does capture the sense of ennui that settles after any great catastrophe, and the two questions that are addressed here are “Why?” and “Why not?” Even the grandeur and beauty of Venice cannot change reality, and in some respects, By the Grand Canal is reminiscent of Mann’s Death in Venice in tone and mood as well as setting. There is no glory here.