In many instances if I see the movie before I read the book upon which it is based, I will not read the book and vice versa. Almost in all cases of reading the book before the movie, the movie will disappoint, and then in some instances - especially with most contemporary literature turned into film - the movie is better (e.g. The Da Vinci Code - not that it was even all that good of a film, but it did its job.).
And then on a few rare occasions, the book and the movie are equally good though different and one typically makes you want to experience the other. Tom ford's A Single Man did this for me, and as soon as we got copies of the book by Christopher Isherwood, I checked it out, planning to read it. Though the film and book cover the same basic plotline, they are two completely different horses.
Tom Ford's film is humorous as George's attempts at "clean" suicide become more and more absurd, and also more "gay" as well see more and more of George's life with not only Jim but also at the potential of picking up a trick. The dynamic between George and Charlotte is also more tense, Charley's misunderstanding of George's relationship with Jim is amped up causing much more tension in the film, than the simple annoyance conveyed in the book.
In Isherwood's book, there are no suicide attempts; there are no flashbacks to a life with Jim, just the occasional mention of where they met, where Jim died; there is no trick nearly picked up outside the store. And though Charley slips George the tongue, she never questions that George's relationship was indeed a real one. There is humor, but it is mixed both with bitterness and anger that is missing in the movie. George never seems bitter in the movie at Jim, while he does in the book - this becomes even more apparent in a section involving a character who is dying a cancer - a woman named Doris who went away with Jim once to Mexico to vacation and to have sex - while Jim and George were a couple. Yes, the bitterness and anger are there but they are more saddening to read because on some level, they (and Doris) are all George's has left of Jim. In the film, Jim and George are unequivocally in love - I imagine in the book, they are at least what Isherwood would consider more realistic. I like them either way.
The only real difference I liked moreso is Ford's handling of the ending of the book. George and Kenny end up drunk and at George's house, Kenny asleep on George's sofa. Then, George, happy at the night's progression, dies. However, in the book, George wakes up alone in his home, still happy at the night's progression but alone and questioning what may have happened, and then Isherwood plays a game of what-if: "Just let us suppose, however...." This followed by George's death, a death that seems to come about not out of necessity but because what? Isherwood was tired of writing? Isherwood wanted his character to suffer? I don't know.
So, no, let's not suppose. Instead let George wake up in the morning, let him go to school, befriend Kenny, and let them travel to Mexico together. Hmm? Shall we?
Think of two people, living together day after day, year after year, in this small space, standing elbow to elbow cooking at the same small stove, squeezing past each other on the narrow stairs, shaving in front of the same small bathroom mirror, constantly jogging, jostling, bumping against each other's bodies by mistake or on purpose, sensually, aggressively, awkwardly, impatiently, in rage or in love - think what deep though invisible tracks they must leave, everywhere, behind them! The doorway into the kitchen has been built too narrow. Two people in a hurry, with plates of food in their hands, are apt to keep colliding here. And it is here, nearly every morning, that Goerge, having reached the bottom of the stairs, has this sensation of suddenly finding himself on an abrupt, brutally broken off, jagged edge - as though the track had disappeared down a landslide. It is here that he stops short and knows, with a sick newness, almost as though it were for the first time: Jim is dead. Is dead. (12-13)
I could post many more quotes but I think this overall is the theme and the feel of the book and the movie. Especially the first half of the quote ending with "And it is here..."
Okay. One more:
Already the lights seem far, far behind. They are bright but they cast no beams; perhaps they are shining on a layer of high fog. The waves ahead are barely visible. Their blackness is immensely cold and wet. Kenny is tearing off his clothes with wild whooping cries. The last remaining minim of George's caution is aware of the lights and the possibility of cruise cars and cops, but he doesn't hesitate, he is no longer able to; this dash from the bar can only end in the water. He strips himself clumsily, tripping over his pants. Kenny, stark naked now, has plunged and is wading straight in, like a fearless native warrior, to attack the waves. The undertow is very strong. George flounders for a while in a surge of stones. As he finally struggles through and feels sand under his feet, Kenny comes body-surfing out of the night and shoots past him without a glance - a water-creature absorbed in its element. (161-162)