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A Single Man (1964)

by Christopher Isherwood

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,954736,871 (4.06)93
When A Single Man was originally published, it shocked many by its frank, sympathetic, and moving portrayal of a gay man in midlife. George, the protagonist, is adjusting to life on his own after the sudden death of his partner, and determines to persist in the routines of his daily life; the course of A Single Man spans twenty-four hours in an ordinary day. An Englishman and a professor living in suburban Southern California, he is an outsider in every way, and his internal reflections and interactions with others reveal a man who loves being alive despite everyday injustices and loneliness. Wry, suddenly manic, constantly funny, surprisingly sad, this novel catches the texture of life itself.… (more)
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  1. 10
    After Many a Summer Dies the Swan by Aldous Huxley (SnootyBaronet)
    SnootyBaronet: The protagonist of "A Single Man" discusses "After Many A Summer" with his students.
  2. 00
    Trans-Sister Radio by Chris Bohjalian (FFortuna)
  3. 11
    Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee (chrisharpe)
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» See also 93 mentions

English (72)  Italian (1)  All languages (73)
Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
In the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and during the ongoing nuclear arms race, Isherwood wrote this exploration of death and loss. Like 9/11, the crisis of 1962 demarcated an old world from a new and frightening one. The complacency of the '50s in the U.S. was suddenly lost forever and replaced with the anxious realization of the fragility and transience of life itself. It's in this context that Isherwood's satire of California dreamin' finds its mark.

It's a complex book, rich with allusions. George navigates his day obsessed with death, thinking constantly of his dead partner, Jim, and lecturing his class about Tithonus, the Greek figure who was immortal but not ageless, and about Aldous Huxley's novel "After Many a Summer".

The reference to Huxley's novel is not casual, for "A Single Man" owes so much to it as to be in dialogue with it. "After Many a Summer" also exists at the border between two eras, 1939 definitively ending a fragile peace and beginning six years of horrific destruction. Its subject is death, and Huxley provides context for a contemplation that millions of people would soon be forced into.

Tennyson's poem "Tithonus" is a companion to his similar poem "Ulysses", the opening lines of which describe a person not unlike George. The patient, faithful Charlotte sufficiently resembles Penelope, while George's students – with the exception of Kenneth – neither appreciate nor understand him. Kenneth, by the end of the novel, stands in nicely for Telemachus, Odysseus' son.

From Tennyson's "Ulysses", it is a short walk to Joyce's "Ulysses", the formal model for Isherwood's book. "A Single Man" occupies a single day as we follow George through his mundane schedule, revealing to us George's world along the way. The Socratic dialogue near the end of the novel explicitly imitates Joyce. Kenny's intimate visit is an exact parallel to the meeting of Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom at the end of Bloom's long day, the transition from one generation to the next. Is Isherwood making an homage to Joyce? or, like Virginia Woolf in "Mrs Dalloway", is he demonstrating that you don't need 750 pages of verbal fireworks to evoke a whole life through the events of a single day? ( )
  librorumamans | Dec 1, 2021 |
An honest and simple meditation on a day in the life of George. This book is so beautiful that I feel like I read it too quickly, without losing myself in its depth, and without taking out of it as much as I should've. It's definitely a quick read. George seems so cynical and resigned that it totally shocked me how much I liked him as a character. This book's reflections on life and on the way people lead their lives were so full of thought and vigor. I have to re-read this again sometime. ( )
  Gadi_Cohen | Sep 22, 2021 |
George is a British college professor struggling to cope with the death of his partner, Jim. Times being as they are, most people see Jim as George's friend and roommate. And he's not sure he can share the truth with everyone.

As we follow George through a day in his life, we see that he's not the only one with questions about how he'll get through. His friends and even his students are searching for answers they're not sure they will ever find. And even if George might be tempted to help them with their burden, he knows that at the end of the day he needs to focus on himself.

--

I'd seen the movie before reading the book, which can sometimes be a challenging position for me. What I really enjoyed, though, is that it seems to tell a bit of a different story. In the book, we spend all of our time in George's head. We get a much deeper understanding of his motivations and fears than I think comes across in the film. And it gives it all a different sort of meaning to a reader.

I'd recommend this for fans of introspective literature, character studies, and books that provide a glimpse of what it was like to be gay just a few short decades ago... ( )
  crtsjffrsn | Aug 27, 2021 |
Grief doesn’t disappear, it only dulls. And in its persistent pull, we learn not to crush it but to hold it, transform it, cope with it in a cascading myriad of ways. Although it doesn’t always work we soon learn to live with it a little better each time it reappears as it captures us in its rough, clammy arms. Isherwood communicates a moving understanding of loss in A Single Man. Emptiness though subdued is very much felt in the novel where the monotony of the daily creeps on the life of someone who wakes up each day faced by his lover's eventual mortality. As memories enhance the aftermath of death and enduring through the comfort of books, the forgetfulness brought by a mind occupied by work doesn't seem to fill the void for the sake of filling it, there is an utter need to connect if only to make loneliness a bit bearable. Not only to connect again with the departed through objects they used to touch and people they used to know (even if this person was someone they cheated you on with) but to also pour one's self to someone new. But a kind of restraint traps because of how homosexuality can make the chance to completely mourn and share its agony difficult. Whilst the tenderness and affection that lingers from the space left by someone is heartbreakingly embraced by the prose of A Single Man, I find it dated; its depiction of female characters questionable. Rare times like this, I would be brave enough to say the film is better than the book which also includes this line in the script: "You know the only thing that has made the whole thing worthwhile has been those few times that I was able to truly connect with another person." ( )
  lethalmauve | Jan 25, 2021 |
A SINGLE MAN offers a succinct and vivid portrayal of one day in the life of a single man's depression.

Unfortunately, this successful writing of nearly unrelieved depressing reading interwoven with the horrors of living in Los Angeles
is enough to depress the jeebers out of many of us.

The man's split person is early revealed as "... am-now-I-here..." = "it" - = a "live dying creature"
vs his role
presented to the public world as simply newly single "George."
For reasons not developed, he stays obedient to other's expectations.

The author's description of the shift from "... am ..." to "UP" will likely affect many reader's own perceptions of their own rising sequence.

On the downside, once a reader has acknowledged the force of the writing about a major depressive state,
is the killing of ant for no reason and the way over done digestive and bodily functions, from pyloric spasms on up really necessary?

Worse still (after the plot has thankfully quickened from breakfast to being old and "merging into traffic"),
a horrible interlude of imagined torture pretty much ruins the plot and character. ( )
  m.belljackson | Jan 18, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
The remarkable thing about this book is that it starts off by looking like his most resounding failure so far, then gradually gets the reader involved until he is laughing, slapping his thigh, and experiencing the sensation described by Holden Caulfield - the desire to snatch up a pen and write the novelist a letter...

What comes over, like a spring breeze, is George’s essential sweetness - and Christopher Isherwood’s own essential goodness and kindness. This is no sour, nihilistic lament of a middle-aged man. It has humour - not even ‘wry’ humour, but the sunny humour of a man who is at peace with himself. When George daydreams about kidnapping the members of the local Purity League and forcing them to act in pornographic movies, the writing has an unexpected touch of Kingsley Amis.
added by SnootyBaronet | editTwentieth Century Literature, Colin Wilson (Oct 1, 1976)
 

» Add other authors (31 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Isherwood, Christopherprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bachardy, DonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brockway, James.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
TO GORE VIDAL
First words
Waking up begins with saying am and now.
Quotations
These books have not made George nobler or better or more truly wise. It is just that he likes listening to their voices, the one or the other, acording to his mood. He misuses them quite ruthlessly - despite the respectful way he has to talk about them in public - to put him to bed, to take his mind off the hands of the clock, to relax the nagging of his pyloric spasm, to gossip him out of his melancholy, to trigger the conditioned reflexes of his colon.
George picks it up, saying, “Let’s see if that old robot’ll know the difference,” and pretends to be about to punch another slit in the card. The girl laughs, but only after a split-second look of sheer terror; and the laugh itself is forced. George has uttered blasphemy.
He starts across the largish open space which is the midst of the campus, surrounded by the Art Building, the gymnasium, the Science Building and the Administration Building, and newly planted with grass and some hopeful little trees which should make it leafy and shadowy and pleasant within a few years: that is to say, about the time when they start tearing the whole place apart again.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Please be careful not to combine the film with the book. Thank you.
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When A Single Man was originally published, it shocked many by its frank, sympathetic, and moving portrayal of a gay man in midlife. George, the protagonist, is adjusting to life on his own after the sudden death of his partner, and determines to persist in the routines of his daily life; the course of A Single Man spans twenty-four hours in an ordinary day. An Englishman and a professor living in suburban Southern California, he is an outsider in every way, and his internal reflections and interactions with others reveal a man who loves being alive despite everyday injustices and loneliness. Wry, suddenly manic, constantly funny, surprisingly sad, this novel catches the texture of life itself.

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