Book Reviews
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One Day in the Life of a Literature Professor – A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

A bookish friend has been raving about the beautiful film adaptation of this since time immemorial, and I couldn’t bring myself to watch it mainly because I do not respond well to rabid recommendations. I hate the feeling of disappointment when high expectations are not met. How could I not have those when the recommender is lost for words and could only plead to just watch the damn movie. Please.

And then out of nowhere, one of my book club friends lent me a copy. Seeing that it’s only slim, something that I can read over the weekend, I read it and immediately looked for the copy of the film adaptation that has been sitting for months on my to-watch stack. I had this need to see how it is translated into film, and having that need as soon as I finished reading the book is saying a lot.

We all understand that books and films are separate entities, but that’s not what I’m getting at. I just want to see if I had a similar vision with the director. It is not disappointing, and I felt that Colin Firth should have won the Academy for that (but he did get it the next year with The King’s Speech). And what of the book? Did Christopher Isherwood deliver?

But George is getting old. Won’t it very soon be too late?

Never use those words to George. He won’t listen. He daren’t listen. Damn the future. Let Kenny and the kids have it. Let Charley keep the past. George clings only to Now. It is Now that he must find another Jim. Now that he must love. Now that he must live…

A Single Man gives us a one-day tour in the life of a middle-aged English professor. George wakes up, castigating the ongoingness of the world without regard to his grief. At this stage of his life, he just lost his lover through a tragic accident. This forces him to go on alone and contain the battle ensuing between his mind and body. He has to keep a calm demeanor, but how can he be calm if he his feelings are not?

He may be surrounded by his co-workers, he may be called on by his best friend, he may be fawned by one of his students, but with Jim, the dead lover, hovering over his daily life, he is constantly reminded of his being alone. His alienation is felt deeply as he moves around the heterosexual world that disapproves his being gay and, consequently, his relationship with Jim.

The first page immediately lets us know that this is going to be bleak. The first paragraph, which is about George waking up (an apt way to start a one-day novel), makes me own the novel immediately. The mention of death, however, did not indulge us with laborious drama. Everything is told in a straightforward and meditative way. What is supposed to be felt is implied in subtle prose.

It is refreshing to read a novel published in the 60s that feels like it just happened recently. This is the mark of a classic in the making, no? And yes, we have already read those gay novels that feature young hot studs oozing with sex appeal, but we don’t have that. What we have is a near 60 professor, thinking out loud and contenting himself with the company of books and the company of the people with whom he is forced to associate just to finish each dragging day.

4 star - really liked itOh, we do have a young hot stud oozing with sex appeal. Kenny, one of his students, is drawn to him. He feels his loneliness, and he feels that they have a connection. For the most part of the novel, George is lost in his inner monologues, and this student is his last ditch attempt to impart his life experiences and lessons. George is now only happy when he is able give away what he knows, but will Kenny allow him to redeem himself or bring him closer to destruction?

I can only heave a yearning sigh when I closed the book. Why? Because I felt that I cannot return the book to its owner. Being a good borrower, I have to return it though. So I resolve to have my own copy.

I actually had the chance to have my own just a month ago, but one of my bookish friends got the copy that I was eyeing at the book store. I decided to let it go because I found it more important to have others read this emotionally haunting work. Never mind that I will have to wait for another chance encounter, but hopefully next time, the copy that I’ll be rereading will be mine.



  1. I just finished this and it was really a profound experience reading this book for me. I now feel no guilt over taking the last copy in this year’s MIBF.:D


  2. This is where I admit that I couldn’t watch the movie, because I couldn’t deal with Colin Firth crying in the first scenes. (Although this was before I read the book, so I was afraid it would only get sadder- I might be able to watch it now that I know what to expect.) Great review. I agree that this reads like a classic in the making :)


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