I haven't come across any other writer who portray the pre-World War II sentiments of the nations, people as brilliantly as Christopher Isherwood. Being in Berlin during the first half of the 1930s, he had witnessed the rise of the Hitler and Nazis in close quarters. His famous 'Berlin Trilogy' captures these subtle observations on the psyche of people. His writings are clear and simple, yet with profound impact. The book I just finished reading, is no less effective. To many this short novel stands above the celebrated 'Berlin Stories'.
Prater Violet , though published in 1945, is set in 1933-34 with Vienna as background. Young Christopher Isherwood, a writer, gets a call from the famous London Studio. He was picked to write the dialogue for a movie musical called "Prater Violet" being directed by mercurial Austrian Director Freidreich Bergmann. His knowledge of Vienna, where the film is said to be set in, is the single reason for him being selected. Despite his objection that he was never been in Vienna, and his experience is only with Berlin, the job was entrusted on him. Having accepted the job ( not very enthusiastically, however to the excitement of his widowed mother and brother), he now start working with the temperamental director. They hit it off well, aided by knowledge of German by Isherwood. The long association of mentor and disciple thus begun, with the working on the script.
Isherwood in his amazing simplicity with his language, draws us to the process of film making with some entertaining characters. The owner of the studio Chatsworth, the lead actors, and the supporting units. What is beyond the obvious filming process , with its ups and downs, is the gradual development of mutual admiration between the writer and director is build magnificently. Even though the filming is in London, Bergmann's wife and daughter are stuck at Austria about whom he is hugely concerned. The entire Europe is in the grip of anxiety and fear of the imminent war. The caution and precautions are evident. While the initial phases of shooting went on with out much of an issue, but as the news of German occupation of Austria and the resistance from the locals started appearing in London, the entire system had been affected. Tormented between his love for his family and the work, Bergmann lost his passion and interest, only to be confronted by the studio bosses. In the end every thing was well and Bergmann produced a classic and went on to the Hollywood to direct movies.
Chritpher Isherwood, the character, like the writer sits at the periphery with keen observation of the people and events as they appear and unfold. Unlike his character Isherwood, we the writer Isherwood, donning the dress of a director managing his cast and resources to some great effects. Isherwood's, language and style is perfect, concise , clear and efficient ( Efficiency a word he keep using in the narrative). The humour, which is in abundance is inclusive , never loud.
While the novel is a satirical take on film making, its emphasize is on the metaphorical relation between people and nations. Bergmann's constant fear of a European collapse of civilization succumbing to the Germans to Isherwood's need of living in the fantasy world of scripts and actors and more importantly his worries of the well being of his mentor Bergmann. Refined writing, well crafted, beautifully narrated book. Brilliant.----------------------------------
Prater Violet ( 1945)
Wiki entry , Berkely