Monday, November 9, 2009

A Single Man - Christopher Isherwood's Excellent Novel Re-Imagined

I've been horribly lazy about updating my blog. The last post was two months ago now. Time to ease back into things, and what better season for getting serious about the printed (and digital) word than winter? It doesn't actually feel like winter in Hogtown yet; the high today was 18 degrees according to Environment Canada, and it's plus 11 as I begin writing this at 10:30 p.m.

To the point of this entry — I've been engrossed lately with Christopher Isherwood's short novel
A Single Man.


It's now Thursday, Nov. 12. I couldn't finish an entire entry last night, I was so tired I had to drop. But back to my original point, Christopher Isherwood's novel turned movie — A Single Man. The first thing worth mentioning about this book is its' remarkable brevity and power. It's only 156 pages long. Isherwood's masterful grasp of the English language is apparent on every page. I don't think there's a single wasted word in those 156 pages.

A Single Man follows a day in the life of George, a transplanted Englishman who is teaching at a technical college in California. It's the early 1960s', and George is entering late middle age. He's still reeling from the death of his partner Jim, which has occurred a year previous to the events detailed in the book. Being 1962, George can't be open about his grief and loss. His world is still hostile to homosexuals, who are put in more or less the same league as Communists by the American government of the day. This makes George, understandably, slightly paranoid.

He moves through the world performing all the actions and gestures that society expects of him, but George is really just going through the motions. He is hyper self-conscious. This element of George's personality gives
A Single Man much of its' insight and dark comedy. As in this passage where George is critically examining one of his students:

"George finds himself almost continually aware of Kenny's presence in the room, but this doesn't mean that he regards Kenny as an ally. Oh, no - he can never venture to take Kenny for granted. Sometimes when George makes a joke and Kenny laughs his deep, rather wild, laugh, George feels he is being laughed with. At other times, when the laugh comes a fraction of a moment late, George gets a spooky impression that Kenny is laughing not at the joke but at the whole situation: the educational system of this country, and all the economic and political and psychological forces which have brought them into this classroom together."

One over-the-top review in my pulp paperback edition says Isherwood's novel captures, "the flavour of life itself." I'm hard-pressed to disagree.

The movie version starts Colin Firth as the titular professor, Julianne Moore as his best friend, and Nicholas Hoult of the television series
Skins, as Kenny, the student with the weird laugh. He plays a more important role in George's life, but I'm going to leave you with that teaser. This is an essential, must-read book you've got to discover for yourself.

You can find the trailer for Tom Ford's adaptation of
A Single Man online here. The movie is being released in the U.S. on December 11. I hope it makes it to Canada the same day.

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