My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A sketch, written as a series of letters (how quaint) and Isherwood’s last book.
It would be tempting to undervalue the skill of the author here – the tone seems casual, with subtle changes in pitch depending on who will receive the letter that is written. Character and action are set both by reportage and conspicuous absences.
The counterpoint between the two brothers can easily be read as the complex split in each person’s desires; to be ascetic and mindful, at the same time as wilful, selfish and egocentric. It reminded me of Plato’s Symposium a little, the debates on love, on sex and the nature of being. And they are arguments on ideas, more than character.
But I enjoyed Oliver and Patrick more than cut-outs. Patrick takes the part of Milton’s Satan – he’s the more attractive character but the conclusion sees him learn nothing, perpetuate his duplicities and self-denial. He flirts with passionate love for another man, but it’s a game, an amulet to ward off old age.
I’ve always enjoyed Isherwood’s post-Vedanta writings, they are so curious, frail and unholy. I too want to embrace the willpower and giddy freedom of the mystic, but also to fuck everybody and eat cake with both hands.