Discussion location: The Sun on the Hill (had to ask for mayo three times, waitress was rude to the chair, shall not be returning to this venue any time soon!)

Chosen by: Susan

Reason for choice: Amusingly, Susan bought this book having mistaken it for an earlier choice (Alone in Berlin). She thought the synopsis sounded good (and more cheerful than Alone in Berlin).


With our second book set in 1930s Berlin, you might be forgiven for thinking that we’re gluttons for punishment.  As it happens, this book is pretty much free of the impending war until near the end of the book, and it’s actually quite easy to forget it’s based in Berlin at all. Incidentally, that’s about the only compliment the book is going to get in this review, so be prepared.

Having been hailed as a classic of British literature, described as a “masterpiece”, and consistently receiving 4+ stars out of 5, we all wondered what we’d missed. With a wealth of reading experience, a love of classics, and several English literature degrees between us, we’re hardly closed minded.  However, we just didn’t get this book or the hype surrounding it.

Goodbye to Berlin is a short novel, or novella, consisting of six short stories, partly autobiographical in nature, and narrated by Christopher Isherwood (sort of as himself and sort of not).  The stories depict a range of characters in pre-war Berlin, including his nosy landlady Frl. Schroeder, a young English woman named Sally who sings at a local cabaret, a rich Jewish heiress called Natalia, and a gay “couple” Peter and the debatably not-gay Otto. It formed the basis of Cabaret, but for those who had seen Cabaret, they had no idea how.

In the absence of bad reviews of this book (and because I don’t wish to waste any more of my life on it), here are some verbatim observations.  Think of them as the recommendations from the guardian on the front cover, if you will.

“A thorough disappointment. I wanted shabby decadence, it was just smelly and full of boring people…” (Susan)

“I would like back all the hours I read it…” (Theresa)

“I felt all the way through I was missing something, missing its subtle greatness…” (Claire)

“Prose, prose, prose…Lovely words, no substance…” (Clare)

“I would actively persuade people not to read it…” (Rachael)

“The rise of Hitler was periphery…” (Lorna)

“He turned a good phrase, but it didn’t feel like a book…” (Me, Ameesha)

“A classic case of ‘don’t believe the hype!’” (Rachael)

“He didn’t put much effort into making his diaries a book…” (Theresa)

“Based on real people, but they felt badly drawn and unbelievable…”

“Isherwood was an observer not participating in life…”

If you needed any more feedback after that, the consensus that there was no progression, no point, no plot, no redeeming features, it was not entertaining, not a story even as a vague collection of diaries, none of the characters were likable, and it was tedious.  It depicted a superficial and selfish society, showed the worst side of people, and failed to feel like a real book. Worse still, in comparison to Alone in Berlin, a true masterpiece on Nazi Germany,  Goodbye to Berlin was shallow, lacking, and downright boring.

Our lowest rating yet: 3/10