A Single Man, Christopher Isherwood’s novella, focuses on a day in the life of George, a slightly-more-than-middle-aged English professor at a California University who, from the first page, is mourning the recent and sudden death of his lover, Jim. George gets ready for work, goes about his day, and can’t keep himself from alternately enjoying so much of the beauty he sees around him (there is quite a beautiful description of two men playing tennis who George turns into Demigods) and being distraught over the loss of Jim. One of the few things that brings him out of his constant mental monologue is the interactions with his students – especially a young man named Kenny, who George runs into at a seaside bar later that night. After having increasingly-drunken conversations with Kenny, and recklessly taking a naked swim in the ocean with the young student, George and Kenny return to George’s house, where George promptly passes out without committing any heinously inappropriate actions. In the morning, Kenny is gone. The novel’s end is surprisingly sweet concerning the content, and it makes the last ten-ish pages some of the most beautiful in the novel.
I think one of the things I liked most about the book was that, despite the fact that it’s entire book about a single day, nothing felt tedious or drawn out. Isherwood was able to explore the deeper levels of George’s internal character by contrasting glimpses of his life with Jim (having animals, enjoying the cosy house) with the life he is currently living (no more animals, depressed in a cramped house) and by allowing him to briefly – and, of course, in code – discuss his more sexual side with Kenny. The two never engage in any direct sexual action, but George is able to work out some of his more conflicted internal feelings by discussing them in metaphor with Kenny. I also loved the relationship between George and his neighbor Charley, a fellow Englishwoman who, at some point in time earlier in the future, also had a relationship with Jim.
These three character form a kind of make-shift family that I can sympathize with enormously, seeing as how my best friend and his boyfriend are two of the most important people in my life. But the thing about George and Charly is that both of them seem to want something different than what they have, but neither can identify it or take steps to achieve it. For Charley, this means wanting desperately to return to England but knowing that this will never happen. For George, it simply means a longing that can’t be satisfied now that Jim is gone. But there is something achingly poetic about the two of them together, because as much as they love each other, they’re not necessarily good for each other.
The end of the book is, perhaps, my favorite part – although that always sounds like such an awful thing to say! Without giving spoilers, it’s a little difficult to talk about and, thus, SPOILER ALERTS! STOP READING RIGHT NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW! YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!!! George’s death at the end of the novel seems to be the most fitting ending possible, especially because throughout the book you get the sense that George isn’t really even living his life anymore. He’s just…going through the motions, without aim and without much drive. That isn’t to say that he’s not happy in his life. More just that he’s not actively involved. The last dozen pages outline a hypothetical reality – “suppose if, after Jim died, a slow and subtle blockage began to form…” (that’s not a direct quote, but you get the idea!) and, essentially, it outlines the physical occurrences of having a heart attack. George’s ending is poetic and final, but it’s fitting. END SPOILER ALERT!! YOU MAY NOW COMMENCE READING!
All in all, I wouldn’t say it was the best book I ever read, but it definately had it’s shining moments. As soon as I get my copy back I’ll have passages to elaborate on, but for the most part I was just kind of lukewarm about the book. It’s another one to add to the list for the M/M Romance Challenge, and, if nothing else, the read was short! Coming up sometime this week? Another round of the OOTM (Obsession of the Month, a spotlight I haven’t done in FOREVER) and a review of the Rainbow Boys series by Alex Sanchez! Happy Reading!