Goodbye to Berlin ~ Christopher Isherwood

Four stories, surrounded by two pieces with diary entries, all told by someone we never really get to know:

I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.

Among the stories an introduction to the Sally Bowles of the Cabaret fame later. She is pictured as an idealized female stereotype, sleeping around with everyone except the narrator, but still a good girl.

I couldn’t help but notice how restrained this book must have become, for a reader a like me. Being used to a contemporary literature in which sex, or homosexuality for that matter, is openly discussed, I am sure to have missed many hints in this book.

Another problem is that I know Isherwood was gay, so the stories where the narrator interacts with his male friends seem to lack something. Or maybe it’s just me, wanting to read too much in them.

Still, I took this book up because Isherwood’s sparse writing style still gets praised so often. And especially the last diary entries, when the rise of the Nazi regime is eminent, turned out to be a sure proof of that.

Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin
256 pages
Vintage reprint 2003, originally 1939

Mr. Norris Changes Trains ~ Christopher Isherwood

I should have read this one before Goodbye to Berlin, as it is not as good. It’s hard to point out why exactly, maybe because this book is slower paced. And the writing didn’t make as big an impression; it seems a bit uneven in quality throughout the book.

Mr. Norris changes trains mainly deals with the strangely charming rogue Arthur Norris, who is first met by the somewhat naive narrator William Bradshaw on a Berlin bound train driving through the Netherlands. They keep in touch after that, though Norris flies the city from time to time, to escape from the people he conned.

For some reason it was disappointing that Isherwood reveals at the end of the book how Arthur Norris made his money. That probably should have been left to the imagination, I reckon.

Christopher Isherwood, Mr. Norris Changes Trains
240 pages
Vintage paperback 2000, originally 1935

Prater Violet ~ Christopher Isherwood

I liked this one the best out of the three Isherwood Books I read this week. Maybe because it is more humorous than the others, or perhaps because it is the shortest book with the best paced writing. It could also be I relate better to this story, having worked closely to several strong characters myself.

Prater Violet is a short book about the filming of the musical with the same name. That story in the story takes place in the Vienna Prater, though the shooting is done in a ramshackle London studio complex. Director of the movie is the main character of this book: Friedrich Bergmann. A middle-european Jew, with wife and children in troubled Vienna, though it was still a couple of years before Austria would go ‘Heim ins Reich’.

Bergmann is a creative genius, and the Christopher Isherwood in the book is hired as his assistant, mainly because he speaks German. They never quarrel, though Bergmann has his troubles with anyone else involved in the film production. Nevertheless, of course, the film gets made and is a success. Still, the Isherwood in the book claims he never got around to see it.

Christopher Isherwood, Prater Violet
112 pages
Minerva reprint 1991, 1945 originally