Review: A Single Man

I´m sorry I haven´t posted much recently and not commented a lot either, with the heatwave we are having over here, I´ve been reluctant to spend much time at the computer!

Christopher Isherwood´s A Single Man was one of his lesser-known novels (or novellas really), until Ford´s recent film adaptation. Go see that one, I found it to be beautifully made. This is one of the few times that the film and the book really complement each other, and there is not much I didn´t enjoy about the film.

A Single Man is about George, an English professor in California. The story follows him through one single day and explores George´s day-to-day activities as well as shaping events in form of memories, mostly about his recently deceased lover Jim. What becomes clear in the course of the story is that George´s life is characterized by loneliness and alienation from the people around him. He is distanced from others because of his British nationality, his homosexuality, and most recently because of his grief over the loss of his lover. These things set him apart from the rest and as a result he is utterly alone. This becomes most obvious when George is surrounded by other people or when he remembers his life with Jim.

Although A Single Man only covers the events of one day, there is a lot of substance to this novella. George is a complex character, and in this single day he runs the whole gamut of emotions, starting with the construction and recognition of his identity when first waking up:

Waking up begins with saying am and now. That which has awoken then lies for a while staring up at the ceiling and down into itself until it has recognised I, and therefrom deduced I am, I am now. Here comes next, and is at least negatively reassuring; because here, this morning, is where it had expected to find itself; what’s called at home.

It knows its name. It is called George.

Obviously, it takes him a while to piece together who he is, and the loss of his lover is a gaping wound in his life and his identity. George is surprised that people should recognize him when he is only “three-quarters-human” and not a whole person but only an unfinished construction, “a mimicry of their George”.

Isherwood looks at how George is alienated because of his homosexuality, for example by letting him muse on how his neighbours view him. But this novella is foremost a study of grief and loneliness. George is very much defined by grief and the loss of Jim, and Isherwood´s writing, always beautiful, is especially powerful in these instances:

And it is here, nearly every morning, that George, having  reached the bottom of the stairs, has this sensation of suddenly finding himself on an abrupt, brutally broken-off, jagged edge- as though the track had disappeared down a landslide. It is here that he stops short and knows, with a sick newness, almost as though it were for the first time: Jim is dead. Is dead.

George also grapples with his problems of really reaching his students, with aging and the resulting changes in his body that he cannot stop despite hours of toiling at the gym. There are few instances where George connects with another human being, one of these is his friendship with fellow Brit Charlotte. Their relationship is not without its complications but they are close and George can talk to Charlotte about Jim´s death (which, it being the 60s, he cannot talk about freely to others), but only to a certain degree. This inability to voice his grief and have it acknowledged by others is really the most tragic thing about this discrimination. If you have to hide your relationship, at least you have someone to share your feelings with. George´s unrecognized widowhood makes him an involuntary, and therefore all the more tragic, Single Man.

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26 thoughts on “Review: A Single Man

  1. What an interesting review. I loved reading your thoughts about how descrimination against George impacted on his experience of grieving for his partner.

  2. Like Dominique, I love the point you make in the final paragraph. This sounds like such a moving book. Also, don’t feel bad for not having been around much! I also can’t be on the computer much when it’s too hot. I guess this is why the blogging world is always quieter in the summer 😛

    1. That does make sense, the computer can be a cozy place in winter 🙂

      Hope you´ll like A Single Man, it´s such a great book!

  3. I’m going to get A Single Man from library soon and it’s great to read such an interesting review! I’ve been meaning to read it for months, since the library bought it, but I work there and I tend to feel bad checking out newly acquired books. Luckily the librarian made new purchases last week and I feel free to get the “older” books now. 🙂

  4. This book sounds wonderful. I have been waiting to see A Single Man (I love Colin Firth!), but only now I know that it has been made from a book! Very nice review 🙂

  5. Beautiful review, Bina! I can’t wait to start this book. I liked the cover of the edition you read – mine is a Vintage book too, but it is a movie tie-in edition and so has Colin Firth on the cover. I can’t wait to watch the movie version too.

    1. Thanks, Vishy! 🙂 I think I have the same edition you have, but I really like the one I posted and hope to sell mine and get the vintage one 🙂

      But of course the movie is beautiful, too. Let me know how you like it 🙂

      1. Ha, ha, ha 🙂 I like what you are planning to do 🙂 I hope I had searched for a while before getting the right edition. Will watch the movie version soon.

  6. This book reminded me of one of my college professors – a miserable (quite dislikable) man, but, later we found out his partner had passed away, and he was awfully lonely.

    I’ve been meaning to read this, but then, for some reason, it just slipped off the radar. Gotta add it back on!

    1. That´s very sad, but at least there was a reason for his behaviour!

      Definitely watch out for this book, hope you´ll like it 🙂

  7. I agree, the film was lovely and made me think back to what I liked about the book. The changes were subtle but I thought mostly effective. Thanks for reminding me about this beautiful period piece.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the movie, too 🙂 I loved how George´s thoughts that I knew from the book complemented visuals of the film.

  8. I’ve been meaning to read this book ever since the movie came out. I haven’t watched the movie, but it sounded like an intriguing story. Like Ana and Dominique I agree that the point you made in the last paragraph was very interesting. It is so sad that discrimination can do that to people..

    1. It´s horrible isn´t it? To be silent and alone in your grief?!

      Hope you´ll enjoy both the book and the movie, it´s one of the few times that I found them both great 🙂

  9. Absolutely loved Tom Ford’s rendition of A Single Man. It was so eloquently done and the cinematography resonance to its theme at every step. Colin Firth was strong as George and Matthew Goode’s Jim bespoke volume for the love between the two characters. Actually the movie and your review has me putting the book on my Must Find list.

    If Isherwood could inspire Ford then I have to read this novel for the eloquence of life.

    1. Glad you loved the movie, too 🙂 I was skeptical about Colin Firth at first, but he really pulled it off.

      Definitely read the book, it´s so short but so very powerful!

  10. I just saw this film last week – wonderful and moving, well acted too. Now, having read your review I think I’ll get the book from the library. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for stopping by 🙂 It is wonderful, isn´t it? Glad you enjoyed it so much! Hope you’ll like the book as well, it’s fantastic!

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