I´m sorry I haven´t posted much recently and not commented a lot either, with the heatwave we are having over here, I´ve been reluctant to spend much time at the computer!
Christopher Isherwood´s A Single Man was one of his lesser-known novels (or novellas really), until Ford´s recent film adaptation. Go see that one, I found it to be beautifully made. This is one of the few times that the film and the book really complement each other, and there is not much I didn´t enjoy about the film.
A Single Man is about George, an English professor in California. The story follows him through one single day and explores George´s day-to-day activities as well as shaping events in form of memories, mostly about his recently deceased lover Jim. What becomes clear in the course of the story is that George´s life is characterized by loneliness and alienation from the people around him. He is distanced from others because of his British nationality, his homosexuality, and most recently because of his grief over the loss of his lover. These things set him apart from the rest and as a result he is utterly alone. This becomes most obvious when George is surrounded by other people or when he remembers his life with Jim.
Although A Single Man only covers the events of one day, there is a lot of substance to this novella. George is a complex character, and in this single day he runs the whole gamut of emotions, starting with the construction and recognition of his identity when first waking up:
Waking up begins with saying am and now. That which has awoken then lies for a while staring up at the ceiling and down into itself until it has recognised I, and therefrom deduced I am, I am now. Here comes next, and is at least negatively reassuring; because here, this morning, is where it had expected to find itself; what’s called at home.
It knows its name. It is called George.
Obviously, it takes him a while to piece together who he is, and the loss of his lover is a gaping wound in his life and his identity. George is surprised that people should recognize him when he is only “three-quarters-human” and not a whole person but only an unfinished construction, “a mimicry of their George”.
Isherwood looks at how George is alienated because of his homosexuality, for example by letting him muse on how his neighbours view him. But this novella is foremost a study of grief and loneliness. George is very much defined by grief and the loss of Jim, and Isherwood´s writing, always beautiful, is especially powerful in these instances:
And it is here, nearly every morning, that George, 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.
George also grapples with his problems of really reaching his students, with aging and the resulting changes in his body that he cannot stop despite hours of toiling at the gym. There are few instances where George connects with another human being, one of these is his friendship with fellow Brit Charlotte. Their relationship is not without its complications but they are close and George can talk to Charlotte about Jim´s death (which, it being the 60s, he cannot talk about freely to others), but only to a certain degree. This inability to voice his grief and have it acknowledged by others is really the most tragic thing about this discrimination. If you have to hide your relationship, at least you have someone to share your feelings with. George´s unrecognized widowhood makes him an involuntary, and therefore all the more tragic, Single Man.