Friday, April 16, 2010
A Single Man
I've been wanting to write about this for a while now, but I'm not sure if I can give it the respect it deserves. This book is so incredibly layered and complex that it's nearly impossible to write about. The beauty, the joy, and the deep sadness that run through the novel are so dense and perfect that it seems almost criminal to write about them, like I might ruin everything. But if we don't write about we see, what touches us, then how will anyone know what we think? So I'm going to try. Maybe I'll fail, but I'm going to do my best.
Christopher Isherwood's novel, A Single Man, takes place over the course of a single day in Los Angeles in the early 1960s. Our main character, George, is in the throes of grief, having recently lost his lover in an accident. We follow him from his bed back to his bed, and in between we are floating just above his head, and marveling at what he sees and what he thinks. We teach his Classics class with him, we meet his friends and we join his conversations. Most importantly, though, we grasp exactly how difficult it really is to be alive. We all play a part, don't we? We are who people wish us to be, and to veer from that would be rude and useless.
There are so many passages and sentences from this novel that I wanted to drink in and hold onto forever, and so I'll share a few with you. It's the kind of writing that makes me insanely jealous not to have written, but lucky to have read.
Obediently, it washes, shaves, brushes its hair, for it accepts its responsibilities to the others. It is even glad that it has its place among them. It knows what is expected of it.
It knows its name. It is called George.
The overpowering sloth of sadness is upon him. The sloth that ends in going to bed and staying there until you develop some disease.
You could flirt but you couldn't fight; there wasn't even room to smack someone's face.
These are only a few examples of what I consider to be perfection on the page. Some bits of this novel take multiple readings in order to fully understand and inhale. And so you do just that. It took me much longer to read this than I had thought it would. Such simple writing, but so much within it.
The film, which, full disclosure, I saw before reading the book, is also gorgeous. Some people have described it as pretentious, but I say poo to you, silly cow. Tom Ford (the fashion maven, yes) managed to film this seemingly impossible-to-film book. He captured thoughts on camera and the film is sort of a series of paintings strung together. Colin Firth works his magic with his eyes and his entire soul. It is not sentimental in the least, though, which would have been a terrible fate.
So that is my try at talking about this book. I'm afraid it's more than a little muddled. So try reading it yourself and let me know if it changed your life as much as it changed mine.