Continental Drifts: Travels in the New Europe by Nicholas Fraser; Travels as a Brussel Scout by Nick Middleton - review by Anna Reid

Anna Reid

European Scepticism is Normal

Continental Drifts: Travels in the New Europe

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Secker & Warburg 322pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

Travels as a Brussel Scout

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Weidenfeld & Nicolson 288pp £17.99 order from our bookshop
 

In identically Bill-Brysonesque dust jackets, these two books seek to rediscover Europe by means of modern-day Grand Tours. Nick Middleton sticks to existing members of the Union, including recherché outposts like Ceuta and Helsinki, while Nicholas Fraser ventures east to Poland, Russia and Bosnia. Middleton wants to find out if Germans really are humourless, Scandinavians suicidal and Spaniards given to throwing live goats off church steeples; Fraser – an Anglo-Frenchman who amazed his prep-school masters by collecting stamps of Resistance heroes – hopes that Europeanness can be ‘made to mean something outside the passport queue’. With unification half-complete, is there any such thing as a European?

Inevitably, the two authors cover much the same ground. Both visit First World War battlefields, citing them as justification for the end of nation-state nationalism. Both register unease at their own reactions to the concentration camps. Fraser skips a repeat visit to Auschwitz, ‘mistrusting’ his habit of dropping in every time he goes to Cracow; at Dachau, Middleton feels ‘more like a voyeur than I had wandering around the prostitutes’ shop windows in Amsterdam’. Both see the Regional Development Fund notices that plaster Irish public works, remarking that the European ideal is more popular in

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