One of Isherwood’s most famous works, and one of his later books – from 1964 – it’s a short, vivid, no-holds-barred descent into grief. It opens with an indelible passage, simple but sharp. George wakes up and for a few blissful moments, he’s not George – he’s just a body, with no memory. Then his consciousness takes hold, and so does the pain.
George’s lover has died, and now he’s trying to get through the day. There’s an important difference between the film and the book, which I won’t go into, about George’s motivation, but in both he’s shielding the shell-shocked emptiness of his life from those around him.
There is not just sadness, but fury and humour and even mischief, in his mind. Isherwood doesn’t spare his views on politics, race (very dated, but for an Englishman in mid-60s California, illuminating), culture, and gender – he characteristically thumbs his nose at the entire female species. It’s interesting that the lead is ‘George’, and not ‘Christopher Isherwood’ as in many of his other works. Apparently he was inspired by re-reading Mrs Dalloway, which was a nice coincidence for me as I read that right afterwards.
For all the bleakness of the subject matter, it’s an extraordinarily vital work.
P.S. I watched the movie shortly after reading this, and absolutely loved it.