CBR Bingo 12 – Violet
This is an often very funny, ultimately sad novel about filmmaking in the 1930s. The character Christopher Isherwood narrates this novel (and if you have read others of his work you’ll know how he does with this). He’s tempted into a writing job, to work on a screenplay, by an old friend of his family. When he arrives, thinking that he wants to turn down the work because of a sense of vulgarity, he begins to change his tune as he notes the kind of control one has as a filmmaker to force the viewers focus on the material one’s created. This ends up being a lie he’s told himself, and the real reason he decides to take up the job is that his writing partner would be an imperious, but sympathetic Austrian man who flatters him about his most recent novel, but also has no issue really laying into him about his faults and limits as a writer. As they begin to work they create a weird codependent bond with each other, with the work, and with a drunken Bohemian lifestyle paid for by the studio as they try to make a pro-Socialist serious European film. And as happens, the studio eventually has to step in.
This novel is really funny and a lampoon of film. But it was also written and published in 1945 and as such is a kind of timecapsule of all that was lost in the years before the war. The novel has a very strong looming presence, and Bergman (our Austrian writer) has that clearly pre-lost sense that many writers did at the time. Like a Stefan Zweig or Joseph Roth, he’s about to witness his understanding and place in the world be sacrificed by his own language-bearers’ greed and iniquity. And it deeply saddens him.