Diaries Vol 1: 1939-1960, By Christopher Isherwood (ed Katherine Bucknell)

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The Independent Culture

Republished to coincide with the second volume of diaries (and last year's film of A Single Man wouldn't have done any harm), Christopher Isherwood's personal thoughts show an engagement with the world rarer with writers than politicians, say, or celebrities.

"I like to feel myself alone in a crowd and yet part of it, more than I ever did: it's the way a writer should live," he wrote in October 1943, four years after leaving England for the US in the company of W H Auden. He headed for New York, then settled in Los Angeles. Before he knew it, that "crowd" he liked to be part of, yet apart from, was to occupy his thoughts more than his writing.

Reading Isherwood's diaries is like peering into a lost world: Garbo pops up, as do Truman Capote and Gore Vidal, Dodie Smith and Bertolt Brecht. When he runs out of present stars, he records memories of Dylan Thomas. Close friends number Aldous Huxley, like Isherwood earning money from Hollywood while working on novels and short stories. It's a starry life where he can dabble in drugs, drink too much, and chase handsome and willing young men, but in the midst of it all are the usual writer's fears that he's not good enough and not working hard enough, and that what he really wants to do might not be achievable. Always he is haunted by his lack of participation in the war: an essay by his friend Cyril Connolly, which criticised Isherwood's staying in the US, received a swift and acerbic reply.