Category: Christopher Isherwood

book review – Prater Violet – Christopher Isherwood


“You see, this umbrella of his I find extremely symbolic. It is the British respectability which thinks: ‘I have my traditions, and they will protect me. Nothing unpleasant, nothing ungentlemanly, can possibly happen within my private park.’ This respectable umbrella is the Englishman’s magic wand, with which he will try to wave Hitler out of existence. When Hitler declines rudely to disappear, the Englishman will open his umbrella and say: ‘After all, what do I care for a little rain?’ But the rain will be a rain of bombs and blood. The umbrella is not bombproof.”

Christopher Isherwood knew perhaps more than most just what was coming under Hitler’s leadership of Germany. Having been there when the country started to turn to the swastika he has a degree of sympathy and knowledge that makes him a good person to liaise with an Austrian film director on the eve of war.

Isherwood on one level is writing a memoir about his time in the mid thirties when he was recruited to work with larger than life film director Fredrich Bergmann who is ion semi-exile from Vienna and a weak increasing pro-Nazi and anti-semitic government.

The two manage to form a friendship despite the director’s susceptibility to wild mood swings and outbursts of self importance. On the flip side he can be funny, charming and loyal to those he views as friends and supporters.

But away from the memoir of the relationship between script writer and director and film studio there is something else being described here, a world that is shortly to change forever.

It reminds you a bit of Patrick Hamilton and his description of the drinking and sing songs happening in the pubs as the war arrives and the world changes. Here the men and women who brush off the Anschluss in Austria and Bergmann’s warnings of forthcoming doom are also living in a world that is about to change. They have little idea of what awaits and it is Isherwood with his Goodbye to Berlin days behind him who is all too aware that the worst case scenario might well be the one that emerges.

Written in a manner that is almost diary like with the author sharing his thoughts about this period with the reader in an easy manner the book is one that could be prone to being overlooked because it seems to talk of a specific time. But there are lessons here about how widespread the ostrich like determination to avoid facing reality is that are just as applicable today.

Beware writing off the prophet of doom just because his personality is one that can be criticised.

Thoughts at the half-way point of Prater Violet

Having read Goodbye Berlin the memoir style that Isherwood delivers with such ease feels familiar and comfortable. This book comes after the author has returned from Berlin and as the war clouds gather over Europe.

Trying to finish a book but also in need of money Isherwood is introduced to the larger than life Austrian film director Fredrich Bergmann and empoloyed as a script writer. He is tasked with delivering the script for the story of mistaken idendity that is the love story of Prater Violet.

But the job of working on the script is secondary to the character of Bergmann that Isherwood describes in great detail. As the Austrian wrestles with the developments at home with the Nazi’s he struggles to convince those around him that war is coming and how disatorous it will be for Europe. Sadly few are listening.

A review follows soon…

book review – All the Conspirators – Christopher Isherwood


“‘You shouldn’t talk so loud,’he said. ‘As I came up the stairs, I heard every word.’
He left them, blankly standing. Mrs Lindsay looked foolish; but Joan was really frightned. She had, for the first time in her life, seen hatred on her brother’s face.”

The idea is a simple one in terms of a son wanting to get away from his mother, from the expectations that surround him. But it is of course more than that because this is done so skillfully that it extends beyond the boundaries of the struggles of the brother and sister Joan and Philip and their mother and starts to characterise a generation coming out of the First World War and wanting to live rather than stick with the drudgery of the nine to five.

At the heart of the story Philip, who works in the City, is struggling to throw off the shackles of his mother’s expectations and spend his time painting and writing. The book starts with him having thrown his job in and having escaped to a hotel to escape his mother’s wrath and start his new life. He is in the middle of a hatred between two mutual friends Victor and Allen. Victor, who is manipulated by Joan’s mother into proposing to Philips’s sister Joan, represents the stuffed shirted world of the past. Allen on the other hand, with his displays of drunkeness and questioning attitude perhaps signals an alternative.

But as Philip heads home waiting for him with her controlling ways is his mother Mrs Lindsay who gets him back into work and kills his dreams of leading a creative free-spirited life.

The quote chosen at the top is the moment when Philip walks into the room after hearing her discuss with Joan just how unlikely it is that Philip will ever escape from the destiny she has chosen for him.

He is even prepared to go to Africa to get away but the night before he is due to go he runs away and suffers a breakdown which lands him back in the clutches of his mother. She would rather have him broken but compliant.

Isherwood paints a 1920s world where the war is almost unmentioned but its presence leaves a shadow everywhere. Just like the fog he describes creeping up on people the sense of doubts and uncertianty about the future combine to make it feel uncomfortable even if there are people like Mrs Lindsay prepared to carry on as if nothing has happened.

The author’s note at the start of this edition, where Isherwood is almost apoligising for his first novel, is a slightly odd start and it does take you time to recover. But once the story gets back in London and the fight with Mrs Lindsay starts in earnest the reader feels on firmer ground. It is perhaps firmer still because in the form of Mrs Lindsay Isherwood is describing a character that still lives and breathes and manipulates dreams and lives to this very day.

Thoughts at the half way point of All The Conspirators

It takes a while for you to get to grips with what is happening as the story starts in a hotel away from London with a trio of male characters – Philip, Allen and Victor. The last two seem to have a loathing for each other with Philip in the middle.

The young aspiring artist then comes firmly onto centre stage as he heads home to face his mother after having quit his job before running away to the hotel. But Philip is no match for his strong mother and even with the support of his sister Joan the matriarch of the family manages to impose her will.

But with Philip beaten back down and back in the City in a job he hates the mother seems to be turning her focus on getting her daughter Joan settled down with the Cambridge graduate Victor.

Will her plans come to fruition? As someone not particularly keen on control freaks my hopes are pinning on a family led-revolution against the mother. We will see…

book of books – Goodbye to Berlin


When this book by Christopher Isherwood starts you can’t help felling its some sort of travel journal come diary written by someone who is hanging around Berlin teaching English until they can make it as a writer and go back to England. But as the book goes on it has a deceptive edge to it that becomes heart breaking at the end as a City, country and people is consumed by Nazism.

For those historians that wonder how Hitler managed to appeal to a large number of the population this gives a slight insight into the fickle nature of people, the desperation of the poor and the willingness for people to accept the status quo.

Plot summary
Christopher is a writer who has had one book published, which he confesses sold only five copies, who is teaching English in Berlin and making friends along the way. He tells the story of a couple of years in the German capital at the start of Hitler’s reign through a series of stories that link and roughly follow in consecutive order. The characters he meets illustrate the poverty the German’s find themselves in after the slump, the sort of people (aggressive loners) who are in the vanguard of the brown shirt movement and the ignorance of many people about the looming danger. He leaves Berlin when the city is daubed in swastikas and Nazi flags and the change in the city and the people he knew is starting to make it an unsavoury place to live. He can show the reader just how things have changed by reflecting them back on the characters and the locations.

Is it well written?
It is subtle in its power and authority and it manages to slowly turn itself from a journal into a historical statement. But it never feels like that is going to happen from the start it seems like a genuine reaction to events and that makes it more powerful. Some of the characters you discover become early victims of the Nazi anti-Semitic policies with Bernhard the man Christopher befriends who is the nephew of a Jewish department store owner being killed. The various different characters, ranging from a social gadfly from England who sleeps her way through the city, a homosexual who becomes obsessed with a German named Otto and Christopher’s various landlady’s all represent different social positions and political views and the book is made richer by the author’s movement through various different situations.

Should it be read?
The simple answer is that it should because if history repeats itself then it is best to be aware of just what can happen to a people when they are put under economic strain, exposed to extreme politics and largely react with indifference. It is an easy book to get through and although you sometimes want Christopher to become more than just an observer you are grateful he can remain objective. For history lovers, those who like the diary style and anyone looking for a book describing the end of an era this is a perfect read. I particularly like the end of the era feel to it because just like some of the great Russian revolutionary literature it is the political background that drives the story and defines the characters.

There is one other point that is still haunting me. When the Nazi’s sat down and dreamt up the horror of the final solution it was in a Wannsee villa that they had taken over from the Jews. In the book Christopher is invited out to a villa in the same location by Bernhard the rich retailer. You can’t help but feel it might have been the same place and the bitter irony of the lonely detached Bernhard having his villa, where he entertained, being used as a venue for such a gruesome discussion.

Summary
A tale of how a people allowed themselves to sleep walk into a Nazi regime that started killing from the start

Version read – penguin paperback

book of books – Goodbye to Berlin


When this book by Christopher Isherwood starts you can’t help felling its some sort of travel journal come diary written by someone who is hanging around Berlin teaching English until they can make it as a writer and go back to England. But as the book goes on it has a deceptive edge to it that becomes heart breaking at the end as a City, country and people is consumed by Nazism.

For those historians that wonder how Hitler managed to appeal to a large number of the population this gives a slight insight into the fickle nature of people, the desperation of the poor and the willingness for people to accept the status quo.

Plot summary
Christopher is a writer who has had one book published, which he confesses sold only five copies, who is teaching English in Berlin and making friends along the way. He tells the story of a couple of years in the German capital at the start of Hitler’s reign through a series of stories that link and roughly follow in consecutive order. The characters he meets illustrate the poverty the German’s find themselves in after the slump, the sort of people (aggressive loners) who are in the vanguard of the brown shirt movement and the ignorance of many people about the looming danger. He leaves Berlin when the city is daubed in swastikas and Nazi flags and the change in the city and the people he knew is starting to make it an unsavoury place to live. He can show the reader just how things have changed by reflecting them back on the characters and the locations.

Is it well written?
It is subtle in its power and authority and it manages to slowly turn itself from a journal into a historical statement. But it never feels like that is going to happen from the start it seems like a genuine reaction to events and that makes it more powerful. Some of the characters you discover become early victims of the Nazi anti-Semitic policies with Bernhard the man Christopher befriends who is the nephew of a Jewish department store owner being killed. The various different characters, ranging from a social gadfly from England who sleeps her way through the city, a homosexual who becomes obsessed with a German named Otto and Christopher’s various landlady’s all represent different social positions and political views and the book is made richer by the author’s movement through various different situations.

Should it be read?
The simple answer is that it should because if history repeats itself then it is best to be aware of just what can happen to a people when they are put under economic strain, exposed to extreme politics and largely react with indifference. It is an easy book to get through and although you sometimes want Christopher to become more than just an observer you are grateful he can remain objective. For history lovers, those who like the diary style and anyone looking for a book describing the end of an era this is a perfect read. I particularly like the end of the era feel to it because just like some of the great Russian revolutionary literature it is the political background that drives the story and defines the characters.

There is one other point that is still haunting me. When the Nazi’s sat down and dreamt up the horror of the final solution it was in a Wannsee villa that they had taken over from the Jews. In the book Christopher is invited out to a villa in the same location by Bernhard the rich retailer. You can’t help but feel it might have been the same place and the bitter irony of the lonely detached Bernhard having his villa, where he entertained, being used as a venue for such a gruesome discussion.

Summary
A tale of how a people allowed themselves to sleep walk into a Nazi regime that started killing from the start

Version read – penguin paperback

book of books – Goodbye to Berlin


When this book by Christopher Isherwood starts you can’t help felling its some sort of travel journal come diary written by someone who is hanging around Berlin teaching English until they can make it as a writer and go back to England. But as the book goes on it has a deceptive edge to it that becomes heart breaking at the end as a City, country and people is consumed by Nazism.

For those historians that wonder how Hitler managed to appeal to a large number of the population this gives a slight insight into the fickle nature of people, the desperation of the poor and the willingness for people to accept the status quo.

Plot summary
Christopher is a writer who has had one book published, which he confesses sold only five copies, who is teaching English in Berlin and making friends along the way. He tells the story of a couple of years in the German capital at the start of Hitler’s reign through a series of stories that link and roughly follow in consecutive order. The characters he meets illustrate the poverty the German’s find themselves in after the slump, the sort of people (aggressive loners) who are in the vanguard of the brown shirt movement and the ignorance of many people about the looming danger. He leaves Berlin when the city is daubed in swastikas and Nazi flags and the change in the city and the people he knew is starting to make it an unsavoury place to live. He can show the reader just how things have changed by reflecting them back on the characters and the locations.

Is it well written?
It is subtle in its power and authority and it manages to slowly turn itself from a journal into a historical statement. But it never feels like that is going to happen from the start it seems like a genuine reaction to events and that makes it more powerful. Some of the characters you discover become early victims of the Nazi anti-Semitic policies with Bernhard the man Christopher befriends who is the nephew of a Jewish department store owner being killed. The various different characters, ranging from a social gadfly from England who sleeps her way through the city, a homosexual who becomes obsessed with a German named Otto and Christopher’s various landlady’s all represent different social positions and political views and the book is made richer by the author’s movement through various different situations.

Should it be read?
The simple answer is that it should because if history repeats itself then it is best to be aware of just what can happen to a people when they are put under economic strain, exposed to extreme politics and largely react with indifference. It is an easy book to get through and although you sometimes want Christopher to become more than just an observer you are grateful he can remain objective. For history lovers, those who like the diary style and anyone looking for a book describing the end of an era this is a perfect read. I particularly like the end of the era feel to it because just like some of the great Russian revolutionary literature it is the political background that drives the story and defines the characters.

There is one other point that is still haunting me. When the Nazi’s sat down and dreamt up the horror of the final solution it was in a Wannsee villa that they had taken over from the Jews. In the book Christopher is invited out to a villa in the same location by Bernhard the rich retailer. You can’t help but feel it might have been the same place and the bitter irony of the lonely detached Bernhard having his villa, where he entertained, being used as a venue for such a gruesome discussion.

Summary
A tale of how a people allowed themselves to sleep walk into a Nazi regime that started killing from the start

Version read – penguin paperback