Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood, Random House $29.99

Christopher Isherwood was a true twentieth century man.  Born in England in 1904, living in Berlin, China and finally Los Angeles where he died in 1986.  His life reflects the enlarging of the world that had come with the colonization of America.

In his novel A Single Man he chronicles one day in the life of George, a middle aged gay English Professor teaching at a Los Angeles University.  George’s lover has been killed in a car accident some months earlier and George is getting on with his daily life, as illustrated by the first scene of waking and struggling out of bed.  He lives in a high state of self awareness, which redefines his everyday experiences  for you. Take his thoughts during his drive into Los Angeles : As he drives, it is as if some kind of autohypnosis exerts itself.”  And in this state George shares with you his fantasies and thoughts of new realities for his world, with himself in a centre of power.

Isherwood is at his best however when describing George’s awareness and interaction with his neighbours and especially his students.  He nervously balances teaching the meaning of literature with avoiding causing offence to any of the many minority groups in his 1960s Californian classroom.  This anxiety is beautifully contrasted with the comfort he later experiences during his gym workout with people he can be comfortable with. 

This is a very personal novel.  George is exposed to us in all his better and worse qualities.  The language of this intimacy satisfies while leaving a taste for even more.

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