“Prater Violet” by Christopher Isherwood
Filed Under: Media & Tech | Posted: 06/05/2012 at 4:20PM
Comments | Region: New York | United States
Prater Violet is the best book about being Jewish (except perhaps for Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl…) Also, it’s the finest Isherwood work I’ve read, and I’m a lover of his words. A Single Man and A Meeting by the River are slight, late novels, full of brilliance, but incomplete. My Guru and His Disciple is a masterpiece of yogic truthfulness, but has no real ending. Isherwood was — it’s now believed — a great diarist, but couldn’t create literary structure. Here he does. On one level, this is a satirical novella about moviemaking (but in London, at "Imperial Bulldog Pictures," not Hollywood). On a second level, it’s a remembrance of 1938, of Kristallnacht, of the threat of Hitler suddenly becoming real — for the politically astute, a scathing nightmare. Ultimately, the book is about Isherwood himself, shaking off his English provinciality and becoming a man. (Soon after, he and Auden expatriated to the USA.) Prater Violet illustrates the sadness of friendship, the burdens of accepting a stranger as an equal. (Also, it’s a great title!)
The Jews are never satisfied. They’re always suing someone: another Jew, the goyim, God. They invented Marxism and psychotherapy, but that didn’t help — or rather, it only helped briefly. A Marxist sees the world clearly, but how can she act, knowing that all her blood and life flow into the evil designs of the bourgeoisie? Prater Violet confronts this question. Each of us is making a mediocre, treacly movie — the movie of our life. But we cannot stop, or work halfheartedly. We must produce the most elegant stupid movie we can.