Title: A Single Man
Author: Christopher Isherwood
Publisher : University of Minnesota Press (2001)
Buy Link: Amazon.com
Genre: Vintage M/M (first published 1964)
Length: Novel (188 pages)
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Erastes
When A Single Man was originally published, it shocked many by its frank, sympathetic, and moving portrayal of a gay man in midlife. George, the protagonist, is adjusting to life on his own after the sudden death of his partner, and determines to persist in the routines of his daily life; the course of A Single Man spans twenty-four hours in an ordinary day. An Englishman and a professor living in suburban Southern California, he is an outsider in every way, and his internal reflections and interactions with others reveal a man who loves being alive despite everyday injustices and loneliness. Wry, suddenly manic, constantly funny, surprisingly sad, this novel catches the texture of life itself.
When I told a friend about this book, I said “it’s very well written” and she said “Well, der! Isherwood!” and I laughed. But then I’ve only read Goodbye to Berlin and I was very young then, and didn’t know good from bad.
It’s possibly one of the most perfect little books I’ve read, absorbing from the first page and written in such a way that it feels like first person but it’s actually written in third, astoundingly clever to my eyes. You get as easily into George’s head as if it were first person.
Set over 24 hours, it simply covers his thought processes as he moves through the day and you learn a lot about him and the world in which he lives. From the first section he touches your heart as – as anyone who has suffered bereavement will understand – he wakes up and remembers again that his lover is dead. But he’s not pessimistic about his outlook – he doesn’t like the way that conservatism is encroaching upon the once bohemian area where he lives – once where there was artists and poets and easy sexual values, families are moving in, with more straight-laced ideals, but in juxtoposition to this, he loves youth.
He teaches at the University and the scenes with the Gidget-era youth are rather sweet and truly give a window into a lost American world. He does watch the athletes for his own enjoyment which was a nice touch.
I loved his optimism, despite how much he missed Jim, and the way that he finds the light and the dark in his life. He interacts with many people throughout the day, he’s not at all an isolated person, but I was left feeling that he was spinning on the spot, lonely despite all the people who know and care from him. Without the one intimate friend he needed.
And really – that’s about it apart from(spoilers below) He’s a truly likeable guy, and towards the end of the book he’s feeling optimistic about life. He had a lovely drunken evening first with a neighbour and then with a student friend, skinny dipping and a lot of drink. It’s difficult to tell whether anything happened, but I don’t think it did. He goes to bed at the end of his 24 hours feeling that it was time that he moved on with his life and that he was ready to look for love again. What would have been far more realistic and upbeat would have been if Isherwood had left it there. It would have been lovely to think that’s what George does next. But – whether for literary merit – or for the tradition that – in books of this period – all gay guys MUST die at the end – he doesn’t. And it was the ending that spoiled it for me and made me want to throw the book across the room, and made it lose a five star ranking.
My thanks to Erastes and Speak its Name for allowing this cross posting.
Note: A Single Man has just been released as a movie directed by Tom Ford starring Colin Firth, Matthew Goode and Julianne Moore .