Top critical review
16 people found this helpful
A whiff of decadence
on 28 November 2009
The Berlin Novels.
This is first a note for Amazon. The Berlin Novels includes Christopher Isherwood's two Berlin novels "Mr. Norris Changes Trains " and "Goodbye to Berlin". I brought this volume and a separate copy from Amazon of "Mr Norris " because l didn't realise they were together in the same volume. I live in Vienna and returning anything to the Uk is not a simple matter.
I first read both these books while l was studying European history at university forty years ago.I was enormously impressed then by sense of the yawning catastrophe, which is palpable in both books of the decadence and economic dislocation which faciliate the Nazi takeover of the Weimar republic. The realism of Isherwood's characters is vividly drawn from life, in "Mr Norris " (1935) there is tissue of difference between the narrator and Isherwood, but "In Goodbye " he speaks with his own voice.
"Goodbye to Berlin " is dedicated to Isherwood's personal friend A. H. Auden in the 1930s' these two youngmen represented a critical point of view of western society and they spoke of the dangers it faced from the radical right.In the 1930s'they were both "Fellow Travellers ", which ultimately destroyed Auden's reputation when he failed to appreciate the threat posed by left-wing totalitarianism.
Both Isherwood and Auden were relatively openly gay, and although the theme is not made explicit in the Berlin novels . It is clearly implicit to the reader. In addition these gay portraits are often far from positive, in fact there are no angels, not even the author. The writing is often funny and cruel, but touching,without being sentimental and this includes Isherwood's most famous character "Sally Bowles ". The play "I am a Camera " and the enormously successful film "Cabaret " (1972) are based on "Goodbye " with Lisa Millnelli and Michael York playing Bowles and Isherwood.
Isherwood said he intended to write a series of novels based upon his Berlin experiences. He meant it to be his Opus, but the Nazi takeover and his subsequent life in Europe and America cut the inspiration for this great work. We are left with a kind of detailed draft of what the great novel might have looked like. The characters flit across the deck of the sinking Weimar ship and although they are often amusing and poignant. They are very much sketches, which lack the depth needed for these stories to be a great novel. Further Isherwood wrote "Goodbye " in 1939 as a "siren call " about the Nazi menace,but he was already moving on to a transcendental life in California far from the Nollendorfplatz and indeed from the privations of wartime Britain. There is more than a little whiff of meeting the publishers demand before the ship sails.