It is rare to find a book and a movie of the same story that are both so beautifully executed that each could stand on its own merit as a separate and distinct work of art. Most typically, one or the other will stand out as the more powerful work, but in the case of A Single Man, I find it very difficult to pick a favorite.
A Single Man is a very moving story of the human condition. The story follows 24 hours with George, an Englishman and a professor living in Southern California in the 1960s. We find George in midlife, shortly after losing his partner, Jim. Raw with grief, George feels torn between life and death. His grief and loneliness pull him toward death, but life calls him to fill the routines of his day in which he stumbles upon things that give him joy and remind him what he loves about being alive.
Though A Single Man was controversial when it was originally published in 1964 for its topic of homosexuality, A Single Man is not exclusively a story about what it’s like to be gay, it is more a story about what it’s like to be human, to experience loss and grief, but to still have appreciation and sentiment for the beauty of the world. As a result of George’s sexual orientation, he expresses feelings of isolation and feels that he is an outsider in a society not accepting of people who are gay, though you get the sense that he is even more of an outsider for his classical values in a world ramping up to mass production and consumerism than for any other reason; George is bewildered by his neighbor’s children chanting TV jingles and smashing things with hammers, while he drives to class to talk about literature to a group of largely apathetic college students.
A Single Man was made into a visually stunning movie in 2009, starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. The movie stays very close to the book both in content and dialogue, but highlights the story differently by stressing the time period and the shift from classical principles to consumerism. The 1960s hair, makeup, outfits, cars, and architecture featured in the film, particularly the Lautner House George calls home, bring a sense of class to equal George’s professional reserve and dignity, portrayed superbly by Colin Firth (it is very difficult to imagine another actor playing this role so well). The soundtrack for the movie is beautiful and far from simply providing background noise, brings depth and atmosphere to a story with mostly soft-spoken (though easily audible) dialogue.
Reading the book may be a much more emotional experience than watching the movie, as Isherwood’s writing evokes
laughter, breaks your heart, and makes you glad to be alive all in about 186 pages. The charming quirks of George’s character shine through the pages and the sense of his love for life in spite of his grief is a little more distinct in the book. George’s book character in particular has much more depth, which makes him more relatable for the reader, especially since the reasons for his feelings of isolation are explained more thoroughly through his thoughts. The book has a more timeless feel to it without the constant visual reminder of the 1960s, though admittedly that is part of the movie’s charm, its absence keeps the book feeling fresh decades after it was written.
“If it’s going to be a world with no time for sentiment, it’s not a world
that I want to live in.” – George, A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
– Sarah Fullwood, Library Marketing
Denton Public Library has copies of the DVD available for checkout, the audiobook may be downloaded through Overdrive, and the book may be checked out using the InterLibrary Loan system (borrowed and sent to your library from another library at no cost to you).