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Violets amidst violence,
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This review is from: Prater Violet (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Based on Isherwood's experience of working with director Berthold Viertel on the 1934 film, 'Little Friend', 'Prater Violet' is an often likeably subtle and evocative novel, set in a London which has not yet begun to understand the seriousness of the Third Reich. Isherwood portrays a semi-fictionalised version of himself, as the primary character (a wonderfully postmodern touch), in a text which deals with the twin developments of cinema and of politics. 'Prater Violet' analyses expertly both the attitudes and mechanisms of pre-war cinema, with its curious blend of modernising technologies on film sets, amidst the casting of the ex stage-ham Arthur Cromwell in the movie 'Prater Violet'. Isherwood's exploration of the cinema is also written in a characteristically balanced vein, celebrating both the appeal and scope of the art form, whilst criticising the beauracrats whom exploit cinema for selfish gain, at the expense of art (represented here primarily through the sneering, cynical figure of Sandy Ashurst). Isherwood's satire in the novel is also generally successful, though whilst the protagonist's dry one-liners, amongst others, hit the spot, portrayals such as that of temperamental screen-star Anita, are rather one-dimensional.
Written around the close of World War II, the political commentary of Isherwood's novel is rather more questionable. 'Prater Violet''s exploration of the laissez-fair attitude of the British, in relation to the rising German subjugation of Austria, and the initial British indifference to the Jewish Plight, is both spot-on and startlingly brave. The novel's focus of Isherwood's problems as almost overshadowing the war, however, smacks of a kind of insensitivity which the rest of the text manages to refrain from. The novel's ending is also (without giving too much away), both irritatingly obscure, and whilst philosophically interesting, a bit of a cop-out when the heavy themes of the text are considered. For the most part, 'Prater Violet' is a well-wrought, detailed exploration of Britain's initial wish to "do nothing", whilst evil triumphs in Austria (to paraphrase Burke). The relationship between Isherwood and Bergmann is also a powerful and thought-provoking one; albeit sometimes a little over-melodramatic. It is the novel's willingness to apparently put Isherwood's own struggle on a similar level to the atrocities of World War II, however, (and, less disconcertingly, a few one-dimensional, caricatured characters) which stop 'Prater Violet' from being a brilliant book, and instead make it one which is very good, albeit flawed.