Christopher Isherwood's California

The second volume of Isherwood's diaries is released
Christopher Isherwood, The Sixties: Diaries, Volume Two - 1960-69
Edited by Katherine Bucknell
Richard Canning reviews the second volume of Christopher Isherwood's The Sixties: Diaries, Volume Two - 1960-69:
'I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.' Anyone familiar with the declaration by the narrator of Christopher Isherwood's most enduring work of fiction, Goodbye to Berlin (1939), will be surprised by how uncinematic, indeed incomprehensive, his diary entries can be. There's a lot of thinking, and nothing like the gestures towards abandoning subjectivity and self-consciousness that Isherwood crafted into his novels, not least the one masterpiece penned during the period covered by this second collection - A Single Man (1964).

As in the first volume of diaries, published in 1996, Isherwood comes across as, by turns, rebarbative, loving, insecure, opinionated, self-critical, self-destructive, reticent, controlling and grand. His sing-song voice - caught in the 2007 documentary Chris and Don: A Love Story - is hard to square with these entries, which are rarely light-hearted.

What they are, however, is a huge relief after this book's thousand-page predecessor. Although the years which that book covered - 1939 to 1960 - brought large changes for Isherwood (the controversial flight to America at the outset of war; his developmental interest in Vedantism; most vitally, his meeting the nineteen-year-old Don Bachardy, who, thirty-four years his junior, became the love of his life), they were equally characterised by violent mood swings and heavy drinking. In the diaries, if not also in life, the dominant notes were bitterness and self-pity. Surely the chief reason for the relative calm, generosity and self-acceptance Isherwood shows in The Sixties was his realisation (more gradual than one might think) that Bachardy was not only his 'significant other' but also his lodestar, muse and - notwithstanding Bachardy's palpable insecurities on the matter - intellectual and artistic equal. [Read more]

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