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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Christopher Isherwood -- Lost Years, A Memoir 1945-1951

Before I get to the source of why Isherwood's diaries are so addictive to read, I must point out that the art of  writing daily entries on a journal is making a comeback.  Whether or not this has anything to do with Isherwood is irrelevant.  I've read Christopher Isherwood's diaries (Volume 1, 1939-1960 & Volume 2, 1960-1969) which together add up to 1,900 pages, and my fascination with his life and the lives of those around him became almost obsessive.  Actually, I should point out clearly that the diaries ARE addictive and there's no way to stop reading them once you begin.  Of course I know what drives this addiction, but I am quite ashamed to admit it here*.

Lost Years - A Memoir, 1945-1951 is written in narrative form because Isherwood did not keep a lengthy entry journal but rather just a "day-to-day-one-entry-at-a-time," and these entries only covered people, places visited and travels.  As a result, the narrative reads like a story and Isherwood treats himself as a separate--a strange third person point of view that comes and goes and takes a bit of time to get used to.  The other fascinating part of it is the lengthy footnotes that Isherwood includes as side notes (they are so long that they turn into their own little stories within story).  The explicitness of the sexual escapades Isherwood engaged in are clearly forewarned by Katherine Bucknell in her excellent introduction.  I wasn't so much turned off by these as I was curious as to why he had to include them.  Nevertheless, the intricate liaisons and relationships are simply amazing to follow.  Capote, Garbo, Agee, Angermayer, the Huxleys, Thomas & Klaus Mann, Tennessee Williams, and so many others that appear on both the first and second volumes are some of the characters that come in and out of Isherwood's life.  The travels alike are both numerous and laid down in amazing detail (for someone reconstructing from memory).

It's a great memoir, really, and even if you are not an Isherwood fan, you should really pick it up because it's also an instruction manual on how to keep (or reconstruct from memory) a great personal journal.  As Martin Rubin from the Washington Times observed: "[Isherwood] is quite simply a marvelous diarist, one of the very best in the long tradition of English diarist starting with Samuel Pepys."  I couldn't agree more.

* Every turn of the page is a delicious piece of gossip (Hollywood and other).

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