Review: The World in the Evening by Christopher Isherwood

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Read Date: June 9 to 12, 2014
Read Count: 1

There’s an unsettling quietness in Isherwood’s writing and narration that continues to fascinate me. He shares Shirley Jackson’s gift for turning mundane every day life events into life-defining moments, minus the chilling effect that settles in afterward.

This story here, like all Isherwood stories, is much more than the sum of its parts, and is particularly difficult to describe without going off on all sorts of tangents. Mostly because it’s one of those great-impact novels that touch on so many aspects of life and identity. There’s lots of nostalgia and introspection mixed into the writing to give it that unsettling quietness that I can’t get over.

The story takes place in Hollywood at a glamorous party in which Stephen Monk attends only to see his wife there with another man. Finally realizing there’s nothing left to salvage of his marriage, he descends into a depressive state and takes refuge at a relative’s home in the county to get away from it all. While there, he has an accident and injuries himself seriously enough to need bed rest, which gives him what he’s afraid of most: time to think and reminisce. It takes him back to his days spent on the Canary Islands shortly before WWII and the affair he had with a younger man. The rest of the story is him reminiscing about this time period. In the end, he comes to an understanding, of himself, of life in America, of his failed marriage. Things don’t tie up neatly like that, but Monk seems to have a grasp on his life again.

Isherwood’s writing, though not read much outside of literary circles when he had been alive, helped define a new consciousness in an era when people didn’t talk about certain things and instead would much rather ignore anything they thought threatened the mainstream consciousness, like homosexuality. Isherwood’s voice was one of the first to speak of queerness openly–we don’t see such writing until much later, the late 80s at least. He had a way of showing gay relationships as being just another way of living; another facet of life, although a very quiet, hidden life. The subtlety in his prose makes his stories stand out and stand the test of time, I think.

 

I got this book through a GR giveaway (yes, another one!), and I’d like to thank the people at Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the book and the cute little attachment. Seriously, that was really cute.

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