A SINGLE MAN by Christopher Isherwood

Finally my academic term has ended and I get to return to my reading list. One that is of particular worth of mention, firstly because of the subject matter; and secondly for the style of writing employed, is "A Single Man" by Christopher Isherwood. Oh and did I mention that there's film adaptation which stars Colin Firth? mmmmmmm...

The place is Los Angeles. The time is the 1960s. Homosexuality was still quite unheard of in the way that it is today, and definitely less of an accepted behavior back then. George, an expatriate English professor tries to live a perfect life. But then Jim, his partner dies and his life turns mundane, and at times even ridiculous. He wasn't exactly sure how to deal with his grief, especially since nobody knew for certain that Jim and Georger had been lovers. They might have suspected it but for their general British queerness.

So that's it really. The book isn't much about anything else. It touches briefly on issues of mid-life crisis which is inevitable I guess, since George is said to be in his 50s. But I think the main point that Isherwood is trying to convey here is about not categorising people. Age, sexual orientation, class, sex, jobs, wealth... all of that don't really matter once you've lost someone you love. Suffering and grief is universal. The degree of suffering may differ but the feeling is similar. It does not change simply by convincing somebody that he's different. "Come on George, the relationship wasn't even socially desirable in the first place. Why so sad?" That just won't do. Some things (emotions mainly) defy logic.

I may not share the book's views on homosexuality but even I cannot deny that a homosexual feels the loss of a beloved just as much as straight people do. In the context of the 1960s, perhaps homosexuals feel it even more, considering how hard it must be to actually find another homosexual to love and be loved by. That must be no small thing. And so, I allow myself to be touched by this endearing, and sometimes funny, and mostly just heart wrenching tale of a person dealing with grief. Something we all, no doubt, have experienced at least once in our lives.

As a writer, Isherwood was a bit of a cliche. He went through a period described by many as "writers' block" when he produced very mediocre works. But then he wrote "A Single Man" and instantly redeemed himself. Now, that's also a cliche, but whatever. The writing is not really a radical departure from Isherwood's previous style but it gives a very personal feeling throughout. Some literary critics have brought forward the theory that Isherwood intended this to be a semi-autobiography, which is plausible since Isherwood wrote this book not long after the end of his long time relationship with his partner. But that is of no concern to us. What does matter is that the melancholic language used to decribe each and every act of George's as we witness him lecturing for the thousandth of time, tolerating the normalcy of the world when his own seems to be falling apart. It's truly a triumph. Read it and tell me that you disagree : )

So, yea, I watched the movie a few days after the book and the movie is also very startlingly beautiful, visually and in substance. This is not a blog to review movies so I won't go there, but I 'll just say that the double experience is something very worthwhile to me. You may find a similar discovery, who knows?

Written by Rashidah, or Ede, from the Buku Project. The Buku Project is a blog run by Ede and Aini (her partner, but not in that way) dedicated to reviewing books, books and more books. Ede is, hurm....how am I going to put this, ahh

No princely port, nor wealthy store,
No force to win a victory,
No wily wit to salve a sore,
No shape to win a loving eye;
To none of these I yield as thrall,--
For why? my mind despise them all.

That's Ede.

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