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4.3 out of 5 stars

TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 January 2013
In 1934 Christopher Isherwood had worked as a script-writer on a British film (The Little Fried) which was directed by an Austrian Jew, Berthold Viertel, who had already been sufficiently alarmed by Hitler's seizure of power in Germany to have left Austria. Isherwood wrote this short novel in 1945. It is set in the period in the months after the Reichstag Fire. Isherwood appears as himself; the film world of the time is captured well and at length; but the director is here called Friedrich Bergmann, and the film becomes a Ruritanian musical called Prater Violet. Bergmann is a richly "continental" character, temperamental and larger than life; he is voraciously and perceptively interested in an England which is as yet unaware of the danger that Hitler presented to Europe. As a socialist, he is violently disturbed by the news of Dollfuss' brutal crushing in February 1934 of "Red Vienna", a tragedy which made the shallow reactions of Britain unbearable to him. Isherwood felt that his own fashionable left-wing sympathies were feeble in the face of Bergmann's tempestuous rage, which vented itself violently on the uncomprehending people involved in the filming. The way the book ends is unexpected - both with regard to Bergmann, and even more with regard to Isherwood, who, in the last five pages, enters a territory of unhappy introspection for which nothing has prepared us, and which, in my view, makes for an unsatisfactory end of the novel.
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on 10 May 2010
Surely a book for all to read. A true gem of twentieth century prose. Humour mixed with profundity and humanity. We are always in a situation of historical irony. Add to the list of English classics.
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on 10 April 2005
This is a wonderful book about the role of the writer in the film industry and is as true today as when it was written. It is a true account of Isherwood's screen writing debut (only the names are changed). I tell all writers and others in film to read it - it is engrossing, funny and will make you know you are not alone!
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on 18 December 2000
Having read Prater Violet, rather puzzled and perhaps even a little disappointed, I asked myself, 'What could Isherwood have possible meant with this story? What's the message?' Then, resentfully, I criticized myself for my cardinal sin of looking for and even finding so-called meanings from all the weirdest places, for not being able to see the value of a story itself, not being able to read a story simply for its own sake. But even when I tried to look at Prater Violet as a described experience, a recollection of Isherwood's meeting with a film director, I couldn't help asking, 'But why? What for?' Maybe others, those who have read Prater Violet, would answer without hesitating, 'because Mr. Bergmann, the director, is so magnificent, so peculiar that he deserves a potrayal' or 'of course because Isherwood wants to meditate upon the contemporary political situation and his fellow-Englishmen's isolationism' or 'surely it's written in order to catch the magic of the yet so harsh film industry'. I'm sure we all find satisfactory interpretations to please our tastes, and none of them is more right or wrong than the other. So, what is the meaning of Prater Violet to me?
I would like to begin with saying that I'm an ardent admirer of Christopher Isherwood - not so much because of his literary merit but more because of his persona, that image which is reflected to me from his books, photographs and, even more, from the course of his life. That is the Christopher Isherwood I know in my heart and that is the Christopher Isherwood I love. Therefore, I also value Prater Violet mainly as a source to get to know him more. This is the reason why small hints, occational glimpses to the other side of the curtain, are of great importance to me, and this is the same reason why I could be accused for silly curiosity-reading, poking my nose into the prohibited private area. And Isherwood does, indeed, a lot of effort to keep himself in the background and let Bergmann speak (also literally).
Prater Violet isn't a good source of personal material. The best I could get was Mother and Brother Isherwood's fussy attitude towards Christopher and his work, their excitement and pride in his fame, and the monologue in the end of the story (in which, among other things, his lover Heinz is reduced to an androgynous letter 'J'; this upset me greatly). I know, I'm under the curse of biographism and I hate to admit it because I've claimed that it's shameless and often irrelevant - all the more since Isherwood himself insisted his novels should be read as fictional. But they're not fictional, are they? It's just his game, his play with his audience and himself, which eventually led to 'a series of confessions' at a later age.
Nevertheless, I'm certain one can find Prater Violet most interesting and rewarding quite by itself alone, without a single reference to Isherwood's other works and life. It's 1930's and it's Bergmann, both being phenomena worth plunging into.
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