Tuesday, 12 March 2013

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (4/5)

First published: 1964
Page count: 152

The back says: In this brilliantly perceptive novel, a middle aged professor living in California, is alienated from his students by differences in age and nationality, and from the rest of society by his homosexuality. Isherwood explores the depths of the human soul and its ability to triumph over loneliness, alienation and loss.

I say: This is one of the few novels I’ve read where I think the film version was better (and not just because it featured the perfection that art Colin Firth), but because it conveyed a different, more sombre and achingly beautiful portrait of George. The novel’s George didn’t come across as sensitive and lost as the film version – and also, the endings were different and I preferred the film version.

But enough about that.

The novel is still brilliant piece of work and I am mostly impressed with Isherwood’s observant and sometimes poetic prose – but without any airs. The novel begins as such:
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 home.

Then it takes a while, and a few ritualistic steps, for it to become George.

This reminds me of those mornings you wake up not quite knowing who or where you are, and it takes you those few extra seconds to put things back in order.

Well, George puts himself back in enough order to go to teach a class at university to students who don’t seem to understand what he’s trying to say. He talks about Aldous Huxley, W.B. Yeats, Lord Tennyson and Greek mythology and I long to read all the works to understand what exactly it is George is trying to convey. After class he runs into a couple of student, goes back home, visits a friend, and ends up at a bar where he meets one of his students. In between these rather mundane actions we get flashbacks to George’s life before his lover died, and we realize why his heart isn’t in it anymore.

There’s a certain kind of intimacy that Isherwood thrusts upon the reader, making you feel as if you know George personally, or he’s chosen to show you this one day in his life, and I loved that. Although George is comfortable with his homosexuality he knows that the neighbours have issues with it, and wonders if his students can tell. It is also one of the root causes to his refusal to appear at his lover’s funeral and, in a very profound way, the reason (or even excuse) to his being alone.

However, it’s not just all doom and gloom, there is a lot of wittiness in here, some light-hearted banter and a few rather funny episodes. The weird thing is that had I not seen the film version prior to reading the novel, I may have given this a 5/5. But because I know how much better different and more desperate and bleak the story could have been, I was longing for that throughout the read.

I have stayed clear of the film as I didn’t want that to taint my review, but I shall be retiring to bed with Mr Firth later on tonight. If you haven’t seen it what the hell are you waiting for you have to; if anything for the staggeringly beautiful cinematography (and Tom Ford’s exquisite suits).


  1. Sounds like a fabulous book. Will have to give this one a go. I will probably wait until I read the book before I view the film. I understand your Colin Firth admiration though. He is a rather handsome man.

    1. Oh yeas, it's an awesome book (and an even better film). And Colin is not just handsome, but witty, intelligent and well-spoken. I love the way he speaks. Him and James Spader. Grrrs.

    2. He is indeed. Doesn't mind scenes that involve being a wee bit daft. Love him. I have a soft spot for James Spader too. Kind of feel I shouldn't cause some of his characters are a bit pervy but I still like him.

    3. Ha ha, James Spader I fell in love with when I was about 10 and saw Stargate. Then I started following his career and you're right; he does have some pervy and psycho characters. And he plays them so well. My favourite is Alan Shore - he had some of the best lines of any TV show I've ever seen.