ISHERWOOD by Jonathan Fryer


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Since Christopher Isherwood has written three volumes of autobiography and a batch of more or less autobiographical novels, a worthwhile biography would have to illuminate the Isherwood psyche, or take serious measure of his place in literature and politics, or at the very least rehash the well-known wicked doings with wit or dash. This lame and paltry puff job does none of these things. ""I started writing this book about an author I admired, but finished up by writing about a friend."" And so, in the tone of an awed and doting friend, Fryer draws heavily on Isherwood's memoirs and recites the events of the early life--the first time Christopher masturbated, family tensions, Cambridge, liberating exposure to the boys of 1920s Berlin, collaborations with Auden. Here, this familiar material is flavorless, disjointed, and often haplessly phrased: ""For ten years or so [Isherwood and Auden] went to bed together when the occasion arose. . . ."" Admittedly, the last third of the book covers events not yet reported by Isherwood himself: life in America since 1940. But Fryer has no feel for Hollywood's heyday (Isherwood tried screenwriting) and is gushingly solemn when discussing promiscuous 48-year-old Christopher's settling down with an 18-year-old boy (""Christopher and Don's relationship was growing continually in its understanding"") or his conversion to Vedanta: ""Asking Swami Prabhavandanda to be his guru was one of the most important decisions, if not the most important, of Christopher's entire life."" The literary critiques are flattery, the political analysis is a blur, and only one anecdote--Thomas Mann introducing Christopher as the ""family pimp""--amuses. For a few facts on Christopher since Christopher and His Kind: passable. Otherwise: unacceptable.

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 1978
Publisher: Doubleday