Synopsis: A Single Man is the story of George, an English professor in suburban California left heartbroken after the death of his lover, Jim. With devastating clarity and humour, Christopher Isherwood shows George’s determination to carry on, evoking the unexpected pleasures of life as well as the soul’s ability to triumph over loneliness and alienation.
Title: A Single Man
Author: Christopher Isherwood
I was introduced to A Single Man through my book club; it is my favourite book so far and easily falls into the top 5 books read this year.
“A few times in my life I’ve had moments of absolute clarity. When for a few brief seconds the silence drowns out the noise and I can feel rather than think, and things seem so sharp and the world seems so fresh. It’s as though it had all just come into existence.
I can never make these moments last. I cling to them, but like everything, they fade. I have lived my life on these moments. They pull me back to the present, and I realize that everything is exactly the way it was meant to be.”
Considering it takes place in only a single 24 hour period, the story is surprisingly revelatory. It’s a rich portrayal of a man who has recently lost his lover in an accident and who isn’t truly able to grieve because not everyone knows he is gay.
“Think of two people, living together day after day, year after year, in this small space, standing elbow to elbow cooking at the same small stove, squeezing past each other on the narrow stairs, shaving in front of the same small bathroom mirror, constantly jogging, jostling, bumping against each other’s bodies by mistake or on purpose, sensually, aggressively, awkwardly, impatiently, in rage or in love – think what deep though invisible tracks they must leave, everywhere, behind them!”
This is an exquisitely written novel, depicting the dual-identity we have in our lives. There is the ‘public’ mask, who knows what to say and what to do to keep everything ticking along. But there is also the internal persona – the constant echo in our head – where we are so full of pain and anger that we sometimes forget who we were before.
“Staring and staring into the mirror, it sees many faces within its face – the face of the child, the boy, the young man, the not-so-young man – all present still, preserved like fossils on superimposed layers, and, like fossils, dead. Their message to this live dying creature is: Look at us – we have died – what is there to be afraid of?
It answers them: But that happened so gradually, so easily. I’m afraid of being rushed.”
A Single Man us poignant and humorous, honest and gentle; it will intrigue and fascinate you with its thoughtful, abstract prose. If you’re anything like me, it will make you cry by page 4. It has been firmly placed on my ‘to keep forever’ shelf and is something I would (and have already) recommend to absolutely everyone.
“George smiles to himself, with entire self-satisfaction. Yes, I am crazy, he thinks. That is my secret; my strength.”
5 thoughts on “Review: A Single Man – by Christopher Isherwood”
I have never read anything by Isherwood, though I have his Berlin Stories waiting for me. I will put this book on my wish list. It sounds like a book I would enjoy. Thanks for your review.
Thanks for reading. I’ve just bought Goodbye to Berlin but was looking at Berlin Stories as well. Let me know what you think of it.
I believe I saw a film with the same title, and the same story, so it must have been adapted from the book. It stars Mr Darcy (sorry, I mean Colin Firth) and I can recommend it. Christopher Isherwood is on my wish list and one day I will read some of his books. With the little time I have available for reading, it probably won’t be until I’m retired though! :¬[
The film is also on my to-watch list; apparently the ending is different though?! I would definitely suggest shooting him up almost to the top the to-read pile!