Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The Memorial - Christopher Isherwood

This is Isherwood’s second book and has ended up vaguely annoying me because it feels like the start of a series or a family saga. Although it holds the interest, and things happen, it feels like there must be more. More to be told, and certainly more to be resolved.

It shifts between four different years in the 1920s, and this device works well apart from the chapter about university, where the narrative focusses more strongly on a character called Maurice I think we’re supposed to admire and I can’t at all. 

He’s physically brave, but that doesn’t offset how tiresome he is, in that destructive of property, unable to say no to a bet, accidentally hurts other people, borrows without any thought of paying back, thoroughly brattish way that some teenage boys have been known to use to try and impress girls. Except he’s older, and can do more damage, and make himself even more stupid with drink, and does it not occasionally because he's hormonal and socially inept but persistently for reasons I don't remotely understand.

Strangely other boys do seem impressed (I’m reserving judgement on whether girls would have been) and his cousin Eric, after warning an older friend (Edward) off giving Maurice expensive gifts, realises he’s done it out of jealousy and suffers agonies of conscience. But it’s rather Eric’s thing to suffer agonies of conscience and he’d find another reason if he hadn’t that one. I'm not worried about Eric.

Then there’s Lily, Eric’s mother, a kind of frozen, fragile, icing-sugar woman who may or may not be the reason Eric is riddled with guilt, and Mary, Eric’s aunt, who is altogether more earthy (and mother to the tiresome Maurice).   And Richard - who’s dead, but who was the connecting link between all the different parts of the family group (including Edward), his loss leaving them having to shuffle and relate to one another differently.  

It takes a little time and heartache but they do  manage it, and having seen the family steered safely to the end of the book I would have liked to have know what happened next.

But of course what really happened next was that Isherwood found his feet as an author, stayed in Berlin, and gave us Mr Norris Changes Trains. Which I now want to pull off my shelf and reread also. 

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