Friday, April 30, 2010

A Single Man - Christopher Isherwood

With the recent release of the film adaptation of this book, it surged again in the circulation and discussion in the literary world. Christopher Isherwood's tale of a gay College Professor  in California, through one of his usual days in existence.  In an interestingly mixed narrative, shifting between first person and third person , also into his alter ego , the reader goes through sympathetically through his daily motions..

"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".

"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 ?
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Obediently, it washes, shaves, brushes its hair; for it accepts its responsibilities to the others. It is even glad that it has its place among them.. it knows its name. It is called George"


Living an isolated life for eight months, after the death of his mate Jim , who died in a car crash, George is a lone soul in every sense. His alternate sexual preferences which he does not hide, makes him aloof from the neighbours, his students and colleagues to a large extent. We follow him from his daily motion from being awake in the morning , brushing and getting ready for his teaching assignments, his visits to the friend of Jim, who is in her deathbed, a dinner meeting with friend Charlotte , before having another boozy evening where he is accompanied by Kenny , one of his student, whom he invites to his house.

His life is transparent. There is no pretentious self in motion. Be his sexuality, his admiration for good looking men ( those playing tennis in body tight attire, those in the Gym which he frequent) , his love and loss of his friend Jim, his open and frank discussion with Charlie and Kenny.  There is always a longing for a company, and though he likes the company of Charlie, and given the fact that she has been desiring for him despite his known orientation, he rejects her advances. ( It is not that she does not know his preferences, but as he says "Do women ever stop trying? No. But, because they never stop, they learn to be good losers.").  But it was in the evening when Kenny comes in to the Gay Bar which George frequent, his hidden desire and lust came out in the open. Guided by the alcohol, he looses himself and flirts with the young boy, goes for a swim in the sea, invites him home, provide him with dress before he himself fall into dreamy sleeps and hallucinations of death amidst his desire for a new company

Though the theme and sequence looks simple, the book is fabulous for the way Isherwood had treated the subject. The use of outstanding prose,  while on the edge of intellectually stimulating, but retaining the simplicity. The portrayal of character George, in its true sense, and all humility. He is very open in every engagement.

Proud of his European origins, his take on the cold war era with the Cuban Missile crisis at its peak, there is discussion on potential war with USSR at the academic circles, George is pre-occupied with his on fights for survival. He is a British living in America, a homo sexual in a heterosexual world, intellect to the dull academics and neighbours, man with exquisite tastes to the dull and stupid surroundings.

There is melancholy in the reading, without any written words. He on his part is witty, and flirtatious ( at times) and intelligent but you cant but sympathise with George.

One outstanding work of literature in 152 pages. Stunning prose, beautifully formed sentences, appropriate tonal and lyrical shifts .The more you read, your admiration grow for this brilliant writer. I have to watch the adaptation soon.  Also, to find out other books and get hold of them.

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A Single Man  ( 1964 )

Christopher Isherwood
Vintage Classic

152 Pages

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Here are some brilliant reviews of this book : Asylum , The Guardian , Speakitsname, shigekuni

2 comments:

JP said...

I think Isherwood's most essential novels are the Berlin novels: Mr. Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye To Berlin. Prater Violet is another exceptional novel.

Brain Drain said...

Thanks JP, I will have to read more of this writer. Goodby to Berlin is in my list.. Will take it up sooner..

Jayan