I first became properly aware of Christopher Isherwood though the TV adaptation of his autobiography, Christopher and His Kind, which was on BBC Two last year (BBC Two/Wikipedia). Set in 1930s Germany and starring Dr. Who‘s Matt Smith, I thought it would be right up my alley (so to speak).
Since then I have (tried) to consume more of Isherwood’s work, starting first with Mr. Norris Changes Trains (or, The Last of Mr. Norris, depending where you’re from), which I found quite hard to get through. Isherwood’s style is quite simple and really quite easy to read but for some reason I had a few issues with that book. The edition I have is doubled up as The Berlin Stories with Goodbye To Berlin.
Goodbye To Berlin was adapted into a play, I Am A Camera (the title of the play being taken from the first page of the book: “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.”) The play then spawned a less successful film. The book was also adapted into the more famous musical Cabaret, which then, of course, was made into the film starring Liza Minnelli. This post about the film adaptation of another of Isherwood’s novels, A Single Man, sheds some light onto Isherwood’s thoughts about Cabaret.
That a film is not a book is embarrassingly obvious but not entirely
convincing to the purists, who quickly point to Isherwood’s dislike
of Bob Fosse’s Oscar-winning Cabaret, a musical adaptation of his
Berlin Stories. The film is widely considered a classic yet the
writer famously quipped: “I don’t recognise my own child.”
The other of Isherwood’s books that I have read is the much shorter, Prater Violet, which I have talked about on the blog before. I found Prater Violet much easier to get through though felt that Isherwood left it until the last few pages to actually find an emotional point in the book. Prater Violet is about Christopher trying to write a screenplay. For the most part he and his co-writer are left alone to try and actually write the screenplay, but the underlying problems in Germany and Austria often throw up some difficulties for those involved.
I’m going to try and find some more Isherwood to sink my teeth into and I suggest you do too.
Currently reading: The House of Sleep – Jonathan Coe.