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4.9 out of 5 stars
10
Down There on a Visit (Vintage Classics)
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on 22 October 2017
What a writer! gripping and extremely well written; an excellent addition to his biographical journey
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 31 December 2013
Down There On A Visit is a rare book in that it conveys a great deal while remaining unassuming on the surface. Isherwood's observations are always telling and there is something that stands out in every paragraph, yet it never interrupts the flow. The four stories this volume contains are linked by a narrator called Christopher Isherwood yet are fictionalised - to find out what really happened you have to read Christopher And His Kind. In fact I decided to reread this book, as I remembered it giving such pleasure a number of years ago, And my feeling now is the same. The narrative persona changes somewhat over the twenty years it covers, but in a subtle way, reflecting how one's attitudes to people and situations evolve over time. It also moves across different continents (from Berlin to Greece to London to California), yet seems admirably unified, even with the relative lack of plot. Each section carries the name of a character as a heading, with some recurrence, but in a very freewheeling, natural way. There's no scheme to the book, really, beyond a kind of homage to the people he knew at that time and an uncanny ability to get right to the heart of human character without any of the forensic approach of many modern novelists. His generosity comes across in an ever-flowing stream of words, always considered, never stinting in his empathy. In fact I was often made to feel how I might have been less patient than he was, particularly with Paul, and even Waldemar, who could appear simply out to exploit, but somehow emerge as much more worthwhile than that, even if there is an element of that too. It's a book to make you value human uniqueness more and strive for more benign detachment in your own life, which makes it a pretty moral book, without setting out to be one at all.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 13 May 2013
Down There On A Visit is a rare book in that it conveys a great deal while remaining unassuming on the surface. Isherwood's observations are always telling and there is something that stands out in every paragraph, yet it never interrupts the flow. The four stories this volume contains are linked by a narrator called Christopher Isherwood yet are fictionalised - to find out what really happened you have to read Christopher And His Kind, I'm reliably told! In fact I decided to reread this book, as I remembered it giving such pleasure a number of years ago, and my feeling now is the same. The narrative persona changes somewhat over the twenty years it covers, but in a subtle way, reflecting how one's attitudes to people and situations evolve over time. It also moves across different continents (from Berlin to Greece to London to California), yet seems admirably unified, even with the relative lack of plot. Each section carries the name of a character as a heading, with some recurrence, but in a very freewheeling, natural way. There's no scheme to the book, really, beyond a kind of homage to the people he knew at that time and an uncanny ability to get right to the heart of human character without any of the forensic approach of many modern novelists. His generosity comes across in an ever-flowing stream of words, always considered, never stinting in his empathy. In fact I was often made to feel how I might have been less patient than he was, particularly with Paul, and even Waldemar, who could appear simply out to exploit, but somehow emerge as much more worthwhile than that, even if there is an element of that too. It's a book to make you value human uniqueness more and strive for more benign detachment in your own life, which makes it a pretty moral book, without setting out to be one at all.
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on 7 February 2006
When I was fortunate enough to find several Christopher Isherwood hardcovers in a used book store shelf-clearing sale, I thought that perhaps 'Down There' would be one of the last that I read, due to it being a four-part 'novel' where the stories have the common thread of the protagonist being narrator. I have never been a great fan of what I deem 'short stories'.
However, there are far more threads to weave the tales together of this fine example of why Isherwood was one of the most highly regarded authors of his time, and why his works endure to this day.
An observation of various stages in his own life, the 'narrator' at times seems an entirely autonomous character from the protagonist, as his wisdom, experience, and reflection are so evident in the way he describes four important chapters in his life. The youth becomes the adult, the adult becomes the observer, and the observer becomes the chronicler in this caring, thoughtful memoir.
Isherwood's four observances begin with 'Mr. Lancaster'...a portrait of an encounter with a gruff, abrasive man who Chris visits, reluctantly..and teaches him that appearances are not all that they might seem.
'Ambrose,' the second section, concerns a summer in the Greek Isles as Chris finds freedom to express his hidden desires while basking in the warm sun, and living in the near seclusion of an island setting with little distractions, but plenty of experiences to shape his young adulthood.
'Waldemar,' the third novella, follows Christopher's adventures in Germany, as he immerses himself into a foreign culture, and finds that some experiences, some people, some situations are universal, no matter where you roam, and sometimes the masks we wear, daily, are all too similar, no matter what the circumstances.
'Paul,' the culmination of the work, follows Christopher's encounters with a seemingly rootless, care-free acquaintance as he floats from experience to experience, and then asks to share in Christopher's Hindu teachings, before enlisting in the service. Christophers finds himself in a more care-taking role at this stage of his life, as he bails Paul out of situation after situation, and learns how to be a true friend, without expectations, without thought of self, and therefore without, many disappointments that can come with those who occasionally let us down in our lives.
An excellent read, cover to cover, 'Down There' is as fine a work as any other Isherwood offerings, and certainly one to explore for any fan of his works.
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on 7 February 2006
After A Single Man, this is my favorite Isherwood book. The four stories interconnect in several fascinating ways. They say a lot about the passage of time, about European history and Isherwood's personal history. They also say plenty about various forms of detachment. In fact, "Variations on Detachment" could be the book's sub-title. Isherwood has a way of gently underscoring the precariousness of being gay during a more repressive time in Western culture. "Mr. Lancaster" and "Paul" were the most moving sections in this regard. Throughout, Isherwood writes in clear, clean prose. It may sound like I'm reaching for a simile but as I was reading this book, I felt like I was drinking fresh spring water.
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on 19 August 2015
good read
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on 18 December 2013
This is classic Isherwood semi-autobiographical fiction, set in a pre, and just-post, World War II world in Greece, England Germany and the United States. The narrator is Isherwood and the loosely interlinked stories clearly draw heavily on his contemporary diaries although, unlike the Berlin novels, this work was written many years later. As with Isherwood's other work, there is no plot as such but rather a totally original cast of characters and situations, portrayed with a vivid and unique pen which makes the book spellbinding. Paul, the subject of the longest of the stories in the book is a brilliant enigma, both seductive and repellent. The book is an uncomfortable read, but a totally compelling one.
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on 17 September 2010
Read this book.... it is such an entertaining and indulgent read. Isherwood never fails to amuse.
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on 16 March 2016
Fascinating stuff. An insightful personal saga.
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on 20 July 2015
Excellent Value, Great Service
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