Synopsis: Welcome to sunny suburban 1960s Southern California. George is a gay middle-aged English professor, adjusting to solitude after the tragic death of his young partner. He is determined to persist in the routines of his former life. A Single Man follows him over the course of an ordinary twenty-four hours. Behind his British reserve, tides of grief, rage, and loneliness surge―but what is revealed is a man who loves being alive despite all the everyday injustices.
When Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man first appeared, it shocked many with its frank, sympathetic, and moving portrayal of a gay man in maturity. Isherwood’s favorite of his own novels, it now stands as a classic lyric meditation on life as an outsider.
Never before have I identified so much with a character in a book than I did with George, the protagonist and titular character of A Single Man. Reading this book was an extraordinary experience for me because the author said things I’ve thought, but have never said aloud. It is a story which the inspiration for seems to have come straight from my own head. We all have that experience from time to time, and A Single Man was mine. George is a shy, introspective man. He compartmentalizes. He doesn’t reach out, and hates that about himself. This book is a meditation on loneliness and ‘outsiders’.
This is a short book, detailing a day in the life of a lonely, gay college English professor who is still mourning the death of his lover. He’s introverted and filled with rage, grief . . . He wants happiness. He wants peace. He wants stability. By the story’s end there are hints that he could have that, that there is a possibility for him of moving on . . . but there might not be. This book is cold and honest, which I appreciate. The reader is not cheated.
George is a fascinating character, drawn remarkably by Christopher Isherwood. Written in the early ’60s, the topic this novel most deftly covers — homosexuality — was, of course, highly controversial when this was published in 1964 and is still questionable in some corners of the world today. The subject matter is handled with loving care, never coming up short or crossing unnecessary lines. It all feels true.
This is a beautiful, moving, daring, and wholly original work worth reading at least once. I finished it in about four hours, and I was tempted to flip to the beginning and start again. This is a quiet, subdued work that yields many treasures, and is certainly among my very favorite reads of this year.