“You must remember I’m a woman, Christopher. All women like men to be strong and decided and following out their careers. A woman wants to be motherly to a man and protect his weak side, but he must have a strong side too, which she can respect… If you ever care for a woman, I don’t advise you to let her see that you’ve got no ambition. Otherwise she’ll get to despise you.”
It was actually A Single Man, and not Cabaret (which I’d seen rather too early in my life to appreciate properly), that got me interested in Christopher Isherwood’s writing. That said, I decided to start my exploratory voyage of this author’s work precisely with Goodbye To Berlin (on which Cabaret is based) – a series of short stories from the decadent and decaying, post-depression and pre-Nazi Berlin – probably because it’s the more famous work, and also because I’m fascinated by books about civilisations in decline.
(There are some important differences between the book and the film, and I think both works stand best along and uncompared. However, if there’s one element that joins them superbly it’s Liza Minnelli’s rendition of Sally Bowles: she could have walked right off the pages of Mr. Isherwood’s collection onto the set.)
Mr. Isherwood’s writing is as alluring as the world on the silver screen: fragile and ephemeral. His frugal style reminds me of Hemingway’s, his characters and their dynamics are not unlike Capote’s. He has a knack for observation: painting colourful personalities in a few swift strokes of description or dialogue, bringing back the taste of an era that has long since dissolved like the putrid grey smoke of a cigarette.
If you’re looking for an entertaining, lyrical, and slightly nostalgic read, you’ll like this one.