LIBERATION: Diaries: 1970-1983. By Christopher Isherwood. Edited by Katherine Bucknell. HarperCollins. 824 pages. $39.99.
Had there been no Christopher Isherwood, there would never have evolved the enchanting stage musical “Cabaret,” inspired by Isherwood’s 1939 partly autobiographical novella, “Goodbye to Berlin.”
“Liberation” is the third and final collection of Isherwood’s excessively detailed, yet strangely fascinating, diary entries, which are best sampled in bits and pieces, like hors d’oeuvres, rather than devoured as a five-course dinner.
Born in England in 1904, Isherwood attended Cambridge but did not graduate. Instead, he moved to Germany, where he began writing while living for four wild years amid the gay literati.
Having moved to Los Angeles with his male partner in 1939, Isherwood began socializing with the literati and the glitterati of the day and in 1946 became a U.S. citizen.
After an evening’s entertainment, he would faithfully enter in his diary such observations as: “Tonight, attended the wedding of Jon Voight and Marcheline Bertrand, held in a dreary, furnished house which they had just bought. Had to listen to John Boorman, wearing an ill-fitting turtle-neck sweater, deliver a dull ‘wedding blessing’ that resembled a eulogy.”
In another entry, following a posh Beverly Hills dinner party with writer Joan Didion in attendance, Isherwood writes: “Joan, as usual, spoke in that tiny little voice which seems to also be a mode or instrument of aggression; it must be totally maddening in a domestic quarrel.”
In 1973, Isherwood’s 1964 novel, “A Single Man,” briefly attracted the attention of director Boorman, who had just finished directing “Deliverance,” based on the novel by the late University of South Carolina professor James Dickey.
However, it wasn’t until nearly 40 years later that “A Single Man” was made into a hit movie starring Colin Firth. The 2009 film yielded an Oscar nomination for Firth for Best Actor.
“Liberation” includes regular references to the close connection Isherwood made, while still in Europe, with Swami Prabhavananda, a relationship that inspired him to study Hindu at the Vedanta Society in Hollywood, something he continued throughout the remainder of his life.
Among Isherwood’s final words were: “I’m not afraid of dying, as drugs take care of the pain. It’s death that I so dreadfully fear.”
Reviewer Dottie Ashley writes the Ashley on the Arts column for The Charleston Mercury.