Vintage £18.99 (1050pp). £17.09 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Diaries Volume One 1939-1960, By Christopher Isherwood

In her introduction to this vast, immaculately produced book, its editor Katherine Bucknell notes that Christopher Isherwood's handwritten diaries, which he maintained at great daily length (excepting a "wild" spell in the late Forties), contained "hardly any mistakes of any kind. The diaries are an endless transcript of life – without blot, without error, without misstatement, without verbal crime." As with the essays of his contemporary George Orwell, you could read this book as a primer on style. Bucknell points out that "page upon page reflect the clarity of his mind, his absolute mastery of syntax, his easy ranging, precise diction, his effortless power of description."

Unlike Orwell, Isherwood had both a taste for the high life and a yearning for the mystical. He found both in ample supply in Los Angeles after his famous departure from Britain in 1939. His arrival in the city where he was to spend the rest of his life was less than propitious. "Toward evening, we came into downtown Los Angeles, perhaps the ugliest city on earth... We saw three sailors carrying a girl into a house as though they were going to eat her alive."

Isherwood soon found his feet among the Hollywood community. We learn that Dodie Smith was "wildly neurotic about ants and bathroom taps". He saw Chaplin as "enjoying himself, not just being funny for a living. He is constantly experimenting. He burns with a kind of amateur eagerness." (Later he revised this view: "a clubland bore".) In close encounters with Garbo, he spotted her "dread of being recognised... coupled with a perverse desire to draw attention to herself." He is bemused by the "Gore-Newman-Woodward household" in Malibu: "Paul is hard at work proving he is an anti-intellectual nature boy... Joanne finds it a bore to keep the place clean... Gore is such a resentful, unhappy creature."

Even the minutiae of Isherwood's rackety life in the Hollywood canyons is entertaining: "Don has taken Marguerite's red Dior dress to the cleaner's because Monty Clift vomited over it."

Unfortunately, his spiritual strivings are rather less transporting. A considerable acreage is devoted to his swami, though even here Isherwood does not entirely lose his sense of irony. Not the least merit of this massive diary is its open treatment of his homosexuality, a topic that he had to skirt round until he published A Single Man in 1964.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits