Queer Classics: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood.

A Single Man coverA Single Man follows a day in the life of George Falconer, a middle-aged gay Englishman, living in LA, who has lost his lover. The story follows George through ordinary scenes of his working life in the local university, to the death bed of his late partner’s one time lover, to night swimming on a local beach. At different times, George does and does not confront his grief and loss. The day takes him from rage to joy to sorrow, and is beautiful in the way that Isherwood observes and captures small moments. George finds joy in unexpected little things, and in the company of others.

I grew up reading books written by Isherwood’s generation, though this is the first of his books I’ve read. I enjoyed the simple, pared down style, and hands-off observational approach. A Single Man is a very short book, but it is exactly the right length. It’s sad to think that books this length are now rejected out of hand.

One of the most striking things is the way that George carries on with his life in stubborn determination not to appear as a recent widower, but it’s clear from the way he has got rid of all his partner’s pets, the way he visits his partner’s one time lover in hospital, even though he hates her, the way he haunts their old meeting places, how profoundly he is affected. And there’s a very realistic feel to George’s confusion of contradictory emotions and actions—at one minute joy, the next anger.

The only downside really is that I found a couple of bits a little sexist and racist. I think, simply that the story is a product of its time (1964), but not horribly so. I didn’t feel especially that these were things Isherwood was promoting in the story, simply minor elements that crept in. It’s still worth a look.

I recommend avoiding spoilers until you’ve read the whole thing.

I have his Berlin novels, Mr Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin on my reading pile, so I’ll post about them when I’ve done.

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