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Frank, and beautifully written, however I was less captivated than I'd expected
on 10 January 2016
Immediately prior to reading "Christopher and His Kind" by Christopher Isherwood I read, and really enjoyed, "Mr Norris Changes Trains”, so I was excited to find out more about Christopher Isherwood’s life during the 1930s.
"Christopher and His Kind" is an autobiographical account of Christopher Isherwood's life from 1929, when he left England to spend a week in Berlin and decided to stay there indefinitely, through to 1939, when he arrived in America. I hoped "Christopher and His Kind” would provide new insights into both Berlin in the 1930s and, in particular, the events related in "Mr Norris Changes Trains".
The first thing that struck me was the use of the third person. Christopher Isherwood wrote "Christopher and His Kind" in the early 1970s and so I assume he decided to treat “Christopher” (his younger self) as a separate character. If so, whilst I understand the rationale, I found it both distracting and confusing.
Christopher Isherwood explains how he kept himself out of the Berlin stories as he thought his homosexuality would distract from the narrative and, understandably given the attitudes of the era, he was guarded about being explicit. There is no such evasiveness or coyness in "Christopher and His Kind" - he is frank and open about his sex life and his relationships. As such "Christopher and His Kind” also reflects the era in which it was written (the early 1970s) as gay liberation was gaining momentum whilst Isherwood was writing this book.
I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I hoped or expected. As always, Christopher Isherwood writes beautifully about the pre-war era, however it was too detailed for my level of interest and, as I said at the outset, the use of the third person did not work for me.
I enjoyed reading about Gerald Hamilton, the real life Arthur Norris from "Mr Norris Changes Trains", and who was every bit as venal and morally bankrupt as his fictionalised version, and there are also some interesting anecdotes involving Isherwood’s friends W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender, and E.M. Forster.
Overall though I was less captivated than I had hoped and expected.