Ninety-Nine Novels: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
In 1984, Anthony Burgess published Ninety-Nine Novels, a selection of his favourite novels in English since 1939. The list is typically idiosyncratic, and shows the breadth of Burgess’s interest in fiction. This podcast, by the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, explores the novels on Burgess’s list with the help of writers, critics and other special guests.
In this episode, Andrew Biswell explores Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel A Single Man, a novel Burgess calls ‘a fine piece of plain writing that haunts the memory.’ Guiding him through the novel is Isherwood’s authorised biographer and editor of his letters and diaries, Katherine Bucknell.
A Single Man tells the story of George, an English professor living in suburban Los Angeles and grieving the death of his lover, Jim. Set over one day, in which George meets a variety of people who inspire him to rediscover the joys of life, the novel is a deeply moving study of grief and a sensitive portrait of the aftermath of a committed gay relationship, published at a time when notions such as same-sex marriage were controversial and prohibited by law.
Christopher Isherwood was born near Stockport, England, in 1904. In 1929, he travelled to Weimar Berlin with W.H. Auden, which provided material for a sequence of novels, most notably Goodbye to Berlin, which provided the basis for the hit musical Cabaret. Isherwood emigrated to the United States in 1939, first to New York with Auden, and then to California, where he worked as a screenwriter and lecturer. In 1953, he met Don Bachardy and they formed a lifelong relationship. Isherwood died in 1986.
Katherine Bucknell is a biographer, editor and novelist. She has edited three volumes of Isherwood’s diaries, and The Animals, a volume of letters between Isherwood and Bachardy, which is also the basis of an eleven-episode podcast hosted by Katherine. Her novels include Leninsky Prospekt, Canarino, What You Will, and + 1. She is the founder of the W.H. Auden Society and the director of the Christopher Isherwood Foundation. She is currently working on Christopher Isherwood Inside Out, a major new biography to be published in 2024.
Books mentioned in this episode
By Christopher Isherwood:
- Goodbye to Berlin (1939)
- Prater Violet (1945)
- Down There on a Visit (1962)
- A Meeting by the River (1967)
- Christopher and His Kind (1976)
- Bhagavad Vita (c. 200 BCE)
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1879-80)
- Father Sergius by Leo Tolstoy (1911)
- Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)
- Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)
- The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham (1944)
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In Series One and Two of Ninety-Nine Novels, we learnt about authors including James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, Iris Murdoch, Ian Fleming and William Golding, among others. These episodes are available at your favourite place to get podcasts.
You can join the conversation and tell us which 100th book you would add to Burgess’s list by using the hashtag #99Novels on Twitter.
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The theme music for the Ninety-Nine Novels podcast is Anthony Burgess’s Concerto for Flute, Strings and Piano in D Minor, performed by No Dice Collective.