Saturday, 20 October 2012

Prater Violet ~ Christopher Isherwood

Isherwood's Prater Violet is a hundred-page revelation of love. Simple. I finished it in a couple of hours, and was so moved, that I spent the rest of the day thinking about the narrator and Bergmann. The structure of the novel is breathless and continuous, and enumerates Isherwood's experience as a fellow script-writer of a British film with an Austrian director. The events unfold in the wake of Nazism in Europe and Isherwood depicts the indifference of Great Britain in the 1930s.

Friedrich Bergmann is the endearing Austrian film director, having arrived in London with little English skills, and finding in Isherwood a fellow-confidant, one fluent in his mother-tongue and hence providing the assurance of Heimat in an unheimlicher surrounding. The novel follows their developing relationship, the vulnerability of the expatriate who worries for his family left in Vienna during the rampage of the Nazis (slightly reminiscent in a way of Mr. Pirzada from Jhumpa Lahiri's 'When Mr. Pirzada came to Dine'), discussing the improbable plot of the film, and later following its haphazard and comic shooting sequences. The reader can't help but feel sad when the last sequence nears its end. When the end-of-shooting party came to an end, I dreaded reading further, knowing that the end was near. However the most powerful portion of the book is its last pages, when Isherwood gives vent to his frustration, and that is my favourite part too.

Christopher Isherwood did write screenplays in Hollywood, but the sequence of events leading to Prater Violet began much earlier -- with his being involved with the British film Little Friend in 1934. He is the lovely sensitive boy-narrator from Down There on a Visit and Mr. Norris Changes Trains, disillusioned by his meaningless love affairs (Ashmeade in this novel being one of them, apparently). His disillusionment with life is beautifully expressed at the end of this book, and in case you're interested, you can read it here.

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