Tag Archives: Picador Modern Classics

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood Title: A Single Man
Author: Christopher Isherwood
Publisher: Picador Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-1250239372
Genre: LGBT Classic Fiction, LGBT Fiction,
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
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.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays by Joan Didion

Slouching Towards Bethlehem Title: Slouching Towards Bethlehem : Essays
Author: Joan Didion
Publisher: Picador Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-1250160652
Genre: Essays, Non-Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I love Didion’s writing. So I may be biased, but that’s alright. I remember the first time I read Didion. It was “The Year of Magical Thinking” and I was floored. I was gutted as well, amongst other things that I was feeling as the book ended.

“Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is a collection of essays written in the 1960s, almost fifty years ago – a time and place that current readers have not and will not experience (not that I have as well). At the same time, somehow while reading the book, it all came alive right then and there. Didion paints not just one image but a landscape on paper. Her talent is truly timeless and every time she writes something, she almost supersedes the last piece/book.

Didion’s writing though may seem America-centric but is actually quite deceptive, in the sense, it encompasses the world-view which you only understand after a couple of essays. Maybe that’s why (one of the many reasons for sure) that this book was the one that was the essential breakout work.

Didion’s prose is grounded. It doesn’t stray at any point in time. From speaking of Joan Baez (which is a very affectionate portrait of a highly intelligent woman) to a think piece on the Santa Barbara Coast to Las Vegas and the culture of quickie marriages, there is always this sense of voyeurism and at the same time,​ this need to soak in more of what she writes. This collection, ​in fact, reminded of her other collection of essays, The White Album and After Henry, whose content is very similar to “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”.

It takes a while to kick into the book, but it is also a good beach read (Surprised? So was I when I started it on a quick getaway). Her musings about life, in general,​ are also worth reading, even if you might not agree with some. “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is one of the best essay collection you will ever read. So, please do not miss out on it. ​

Giving up the Ghost: A Memoir by Hilary Mantel

Giving up the Ghost Title: Giving up the Ghost: A Memoir
Author: Hilary Mantel
Publisher: Picador Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-1250160669
Genre: Biographies, Memoirs
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Hilary Mantel is an author that should be read by everyone. I don’t mean it because she is a Booker-Prize winner (twice at that, and consecutively so), not because her fiction is par excellence, but because of her memoir. The memoir that will break you, make you smile, make you relate, and feel all sorts of emotions. At the same time, it is about feminist literary circles, about women who write and without fear, and literally about “Giving Up the Ghost”.

I cannot talk about the book in a linear manner because it is also not written that way. This memoir is about how a poor child of Irish origins, from a disadvantaged family, grew to become one of the world’s most celebrated novelist. Through her story, Mantel touches on other stories – the ones that we can relate to the pinnacle and back. She speaks of home, growing up, books, and more books and above all how she was subject to visions, to “seeing things” that weren’t there. Spooky, isn’t it? Were they real or just a condition because of her hormones as she had undergone an early hysterectomy?

The pain and clarity in the writing is astounding. She speaks of her novels as the children she would never have. All along she speaks of women – literary women mostly and their lives – and also strangely ties in the century and its on goings.

At no point does Mantel’s writing become pitiful or self-loathing or wanting attention. It is what it is and she has written it in a very matter-of-fact tone. The book doesn’t meander or amble and combines all of it quite beautifully. Honestly, you don’t even have to read her novels to read the memoir. Just dive in and be prepared for a fantastic, heck of a ride!