Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Book Review: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (1964)

This is the Isherwood we have been waiting for, it seems to me his best novel. - Graham Greene

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb: 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.

Thoughts: Christopher Isherwood has written a book that makes me hate him. Or maybe I hate myself? The main theme of this book is loss; loss of a lover, loss of youth, loss of identity, loss of direction, it's all there in beautifully phrased observations and it tickled that spot in my mind, the spot where I hide all of my fears, until I could no longer ignore the fact that I am and I continue to lose these things myself until one day the devastating and unthinkable will happen and I will lose that which I hold most important. It's not my hair, for once.

“The prefect evening...lying down on the couch beside the bookcase and reading himself sleepy...Jim lying opposite him at the other end of the couch, also reading; the two of them absorbed in their books yet so completely aware of each other's presence.”

Isherwood's novel demonstrates how repressed my fears are, and so does my natural reaction of making a silly joke about my hair. This book does this to me and whilst I love that I am seen reading such wonderful literature on a train when either side of me are people with the latest mega bestsellers with no words bigger than two syllables and all the feeling of my hand after I've slept on it all night, I'm not sure I am mature enough (or willing) to deal with the consequences.

“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!”

I didn't really want to discuss the fact that Christopher Isherwood was a gay man and that his protagonist is a gay man but it seems that a lot of people can't get past that fact. Top hits = GLBT etc. and perhaps when this was written it really was unique to write about a gay man AS IF HE WAS A NORMAL HUMAN BEING but to me George is not defined by his sexuality, he is defined by his humanity and as such that should really be the end of it. This is not a great piece of gay literature, this is a great piece of literature full stop. If that offends you I shall not apologise.

“No one ever hates without a cause....”

I feel that to discuss this book any further would be to ruin it for you, it is 152 pages of quite large font, all you need to know beyond this is that it's also an incredibly uplifting and life affirming day-in-the-life narrative.

Feel free to discuss the book, the movie, anything but gay bashing in the comments or tweet me @bbbgtoby


  1. Since the movie was utterly amazing I had no doubts that the book it was based on was as good. Don't know if I want to read it though.. written words to me are even sadder than moving images and I can't deal with sadness that well.

    1. PS: How have you managed to already read 63 books in 2013 is beyond me! I recommend setting the bar higher next time, 100 clearly isn't a challenge for you! :D

    2. Yeah this one definitely hit me harder than the movie. Although I did read the book first. Isherwood's style really managed to choke me, but also raise my spirits. Wonderful stuff.

      As for the target, I aimed for 250 last year and beat it but I didn't want to pressure myself in to only reading short books so went for 100 and have read larger books instead. Not exactly slowed me down too much though. Maybe I'll go for 150. I generally have 3 on the go at any one time for different moods.

    3. Crazy person.. I can't even finish the first GOT book. :D But I am on schedule with my 30 books so I still have a reason to smile. :)

    4. That's kind of punishment for picking up such a massive book with small print I guess! Good luck.

  2. so annoyed my library doesn't have this book :( stupid book buying ban

  3. Given the strength of the film, I've always wanted to go back and read this book. So glad to hear it's great.