Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Single Man, Christopher Isherwood

Many years ago, shortly after college, I thought I would continue my education. I thought of getting a Masters in English Literature. I wanted to focus on Queer Theory & Literature. The reason stemmed from a reading of James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. One of the most beautiful novels about the homosexual experience. I wanted to understand the homosexual experience throughout literature and history. I wanted to take control of the context. It has been a long time since I have felt this way.

After reading Isherwood’s A Single Man, I am reminded all over again about my “once upon a times.” Isherwood has created a masterpiece of literature. A day in the life of one man. A short, 157-page novel told in a stream of consciousness -esque style. George is all we are given of the main character’s name. As if to say this is the everyman. Isherwood brilliantly uses the homosexual male as the everyman throughout this novel.

Much of the novel focuses on the battle between our memory and the present. The struggle to let loose from the pain in our past. Is it possible to rise above our mistakes? To take advantage of the things we trust least about ourselves? These subject matters are nothing new. But, Isherwood refuses to be clich├ęd. George is not an overly sentimental man. He is a realist. An existentialist. A romantic.
George’s thoughts and interactions are revealed with the smallest amount of distance. This distance helps to create a great rhythm and beauty to the novel. Every thought and action is precise. The pained behavior of a man trying to fight age and loneliness… I have not experienced these things much differently than Isherwood describes them throughout the novel.

Our lives are filled with a cast of characters. Those who hang out on the outer lines and those who are very near and by our side. This novel really understands the significance of each relationship we form in our lives. Isherwood respects the characters as if each is as important as the other. In such a compact novel one can’t falter with plot or characters, and Isherwood refuses to loosen his reigns.
There is much I could write about this novel. The exquisite prose. The haunting characters. The reality of every thought. But, to say too much would give away much of the story.

It has been years since a novel has affected me the way Isherwood’s A Single Man has affected me. I do not know why it took me so many years to discover the novel. But, perhaps, it came at the exact right moment in my life.


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