Title: A Single Man
Author: Christopher Isherwood
Publisher: Picador Modern Classics
Genre: LGBT Classic Fiction, LGBT Fiction,
Rating: 5 stars
Literature can save you; they say. Literature heals. Literature mends a broken heart, and literature also hurts. Literature takes a part of you and has the capacity to rip it apart as well. That’s the power of literature too.
A Single Man is a reread for me. I think I read it again for the fourth time or so. I first read it in 2002 I think or was it 2003? I don’t remember the year. Sometime then, I suppose. Anyway, I then watched the film in 2009 and my heart was a mess. It was a wreck when I read the book and the movie did its bit as well. Of ruining and moving on.
A Single Man when read in the 30s gives you a totally different perspective of what life might be as you age, and that too for a gay man. It will not be easy. The book set in 1962, tells the story of George – a middle-aged Englishman who is a professor at a Los Angeles university. It is a circadian novel (one that spans through a day), and a very effective one at that.
In all of this, the book takes us through George’s life – sometimes as a gay man, sometimes more than that, sometimes just as a man who is lonely and yearns for company, and at others a man who is almost done with the world and not quite so. Isherwood’s writing is fulfilling, brutal, and very real.
For instance, this depiction of two men who are lovers and living together, is perfect. One might think it is written so simply and yet it conjures so many images:
“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!”
A Single Man is a story of two Georges as well. The one who wants to say so much, and the one who doesn’t. The book is full of internal monologues – his life sometime in the past and in the present. I think the time in which the book is set is also so indicative of everything that was homophobic, xenophobic, and yet professing free love to the moon and back.
Isherwood writes as an insider, and yet it always seems he is an outsider looking in – maintaining a perfect balance, a dance almost, with wit intact, and prose that is poignant to the brim. The question of death and life are the core of this most beautifully rendered novel. It addresses bigger issues of loneliness and isolation, seen through the lens of a gay man is purely coincidental. There is also a lot of self-loathing for just being who he is that made my heart go out to George.
A Single Man is a book that needs to be looked at very closely – without bias, and read over and over again to make true sense of what Isherwood wants to tell us – of what it is to be single and left out, in a room full of people – in a world that is too crowded.