Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Single Man or why Colin Firth should grace more book covers. . .

I am usually not a fan of movie tie-in covers, but I'm loving this one from the University of Minnesota Press. Okay, it is Colin Firth (and have you checked out the photo from the Globe and Mail interview here? - scroll down a bit to swoon) but he's completely in character and the image would have been enough to pull me into the book even if I didn't know about the movie.

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood is a very moving novel about a single day in the life of George, an English professor who is still grieving over the recent death of his lover in a car crash. It's Cold War 1960s California - a world in which being gay is feared as much as being a communist (has anything changed much in that state?) We follow George as he wakes up, makes breakfast, goes to the gym, drives the freeway to work, teaches a class, has dinner with an old friend and ends up at a bar by a beach. The intensity, scorn and anger of George's thoughts and perceptions of the world and people around him, are the driving force behind this novel. Isherwood balances some very funny and cynical observations on being a gay, cultured, Brit living in suburban sprawl with the simultaneous acknowledgment of how lonely and isolating it is. This is a short, intense, and very beautifully written novel, excellent at quietly portraying the endless ache of grief that can painfully resurface in someplace as banal as a supermarket. It's the simple, daily, taken-for-granted things about love that George misses the most:

He pictures the evening he might have spent, snugly at home, fixing the food he has bought, then lying down on the couch beside his bookcase and reading himself slowly sleepy. At first glance this is an absolutely convincing and charming scene of domestic contentment. Only after a few instants does George notice the omission that makes it meaningless. What is left out of the picture is Jim, lying opposite him at the other end of the couch, also reading; the two of them absorbed in their books yet so completely aware of each other's presence.

Can't wait to see the film this weekend! You can watch the trailer here.

And if you'd like to read another good Cold War campus novel, try May Sarton's 1955 novel Faithful Are the Wounds.

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