A SINGLE MAN | CHRISTOPHER ISHERWOOD | BOOK REVIEW

Funny thing and JK confession – as a gay man I never knew this was a book, even worse, I own the movie but have never seen it. I really need to remove my head from my botbot and get into it – I hear nothing but greatness about the movie, A SINGLE MAN, and after reading this fine review from our newbie, or latest book kernel, Hyo-Jin Shim, I might just read the book first. Hyo Jin Shim comes to us fresh and enthusiastic and scared of making errors, as per her five drafts haha. Please join me in welcoming her to the family of kernels. A SINGLE MAN (the book) is written by Christopher Isherwood, is distributed by Random House Australia in this country, is 176 pages long and you can buy it from HERE. All the best………..JK.

 

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A SINGLE MAN | SALTY POPCORN BOOK REVIEW | MINIMALIST MOVIE POSTER

 

REVIEW BY HYO-JIN SHIM

I won’t even try to be so ambitious as to cover every theme and detail of this book. Instead, I would like to highlight the parts that I enjoyed from it. Isherwood’s book seems synonymous with the contemporary ideas and themes within our everyday world and the characters are quite familiar, too. They could be my neighbours, my work colleagues or friends. And, I am not here to critique the writer’s style, however reading this book was quite a delicious experience after watching Tom Ford’s heavily stylised film adaptation, notably a huge success. It is also the pick of the author’s bunch, based on WI Scobie’s interview for the Paris Review back in the 70s.

On reading A Single Man, I was able to eat up all the words quite easily all within a couple of days. Isherwood is widely known for his prose-like writing and popularised for his vivid imagery. In this instance, the post-war Los Angelanos architecture, the late-Modernist style and fashion were part of the author’s description of the golden age in California and his pages read so fluidly, the readers are in for a treat.

My disclaimer is that my reviews will mainly focus on one or two things at a time, mainly the way the characters are developed and drawn out in the sequence of their environment, relationships and circumstances. This is the WOW-factor for me – it usually gets me thinking for some time after, in a state of confusion and puzzlement, I’m entirely absorbed until the unraveling is complete.

 

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A SINGLE MAN | SALTY POPCORN BOOK REVIEW

 

The central character is George, he has an air of restraint and aloofness around him. He is a thinking man, an academic, very attractive in the dignified years, of great stature and presence amongst his social and professional networks. The book encompasses a day in George’s life, from morning to late-night slumber and everything else in-between; his work, the gym, the supermarket, cocktails then dinner with his BFF and a nightcap at his local. And, this is quite relevant to our present day culture, as there are a lot of single people with exactly the same schedule.

There is something about George that sets him apart from the rest of us, he has suffered the recent death of his lover, Jim, and the mood is set at a fairly sombre pace and it resonates a sense of melancholy and resilience throughout. The reader can tap into the thoughts of a mysteriously intelligent man, who goes through the motions of living, playing the role of a survivor-warrior, when in fact, he has resigned from life itself. George is very cagey in behaviour, understandably so during the bereavement period, but on the whole, the type of person we would not be intimate with unless we spent decades with such a complex person.

It is quite interesting being inside George’s head, the snobberishness and repugnance is all too telling with his behaviour, and the insight into his real thoughts internally processing away are quite astounding. His self-talk and feelings of contempt for people are quite witty and adorably eccentric, I laughed out aloud a few times. Some people are better off saying these things openly, rather than being two-faced, but once again, you can forgive George’s current state of grievance and his censorship shows his level of EQ and genuine love for people (from a very safe distance).

 

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A SINGLE MAN | SALTY POPCORN BOOK REVIEW | CHARLIE’S PAD

 

George and Jim’s same sex relationship during the 1950/60s was not one that society would have typically celebrated in the age of the nuclear family, with squeaky clean bakelite appliances and the perfectly rolled coiffures. So, the difference between then and now, is that in 2014 (and at other times in history), our society embraces all notions of sexuality and masculinity (editor’s note: I highly disagree with this comment), whereby the heteronormative 60s regarded the LGBTI’s with a very distanced approach. However classy and dignified it would have looked from the majority, the truth is that they had to deny and repress some part of themselves into a world of the unspoken and the taboo (it sounds mysteriously naughty and awfully fun that way, too).

The dialogue of Isherwood’s reads like it was made for the screen, George’s voice seemed hollow and cynical, other times, quite heated with compelled passion for storytelling and for social justice. At university, George becomes alive in front of his students and is drawn to them (deemed as the ones ‘still two thirds alive’). It is expected of George, the aloof, the emotionally unavailable, to refrain from strong opinions and candid feelings. His life is reduced down to the bodily functions to remind him that he is alive and oscillates from annoyance to curbed gratitude with the social interactions that distract him from his loner world.

Other details worth noting are the literary references in this book; Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf as the inspiration. In George’s class, After Many a Summer – Aldous Huxley, which also included the Tithonus poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson. If I may add in my own idea, this book has some relevance for the contemporary works, like Boston Marriage written by David Mamet, about the late 19th century households.

 

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The secondary characters include; Charley, the BFF who flounces around like an open walking wound, she’ll tell anyone her worries, loosening the rules of etiquette around tact and boundaries. In reality, she is a warrior herself, surviving a divorce and the abandonment of her own family. There is also Wally, the next-gen homosexual, a student of George’s,  the latter is the bigger queen out of the two, observes the youth’s squirmish delight in the retelling of the Zeus’ affair with Ganymede in Tennyson’s poem. Lastly, there is Kenny, the flirtatious student, who becomes George’s love interest as they delve into a night of lust and misadventures.

Whilst I would like to force-feed this book to those who need to develop their EQ as a mature-minded individual, I would also recommend to those who like to understand the finer subtleties in life. Perhaps Charley would have benefited from reading this book, maybe not!! It is the type of book you can revisit many time as the imagery is pure sunshine and the dialogue so eloquently punchy, if only more people spoke and thought like that. The spoiler alert is that the book and movie have completely different endings. You will have to read and watch for yourself to find out what actually happened, then make up your mind whether it was the film or book that conveyed the most emotion and drama. Enjoy !!!

 

5 Pops

 

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