In this slim novel set in the 1960s, what we have is a day in the life of George Falconer. George, 58, is a transplant from England residing in sunny California. Over a year ago, when Jim, George’s partner of 16 years, suddenly passed away, it had left George’s life in shambles. This being the 1960s when homosexuality wasn’t tolerated, George can’t publicly mourn Jim. So he is more alone now than ever, with the home he once shared with Jim constantly reminding George of his loss:
Think of two people, living together day after day, year after year, in this small space, standing elbow to elbow cooking at the same small stove, squeezing past each other on the narrow stairs, shaving in front of the same small bathroom mirror, constantly jogging, jostling, bumping against each other’s bodies by mistake or on purpose, sensually, aggressively, awkwardly, impatiently, in rage or in love – think what deep though invisible tracks they must leave, everywhere, behind them!
With memories from their happy past lurking around in every corner, ready to send spasms of pain down George’s heart at a moment’s notice, even waking up is a struggle for George. But every morning, he is expected to get out of the bed, be ready and go teach English literature to a bunch of college students. These moments George spends outside of the home is one great performance he puts on for the whole world to see, and it’s just Charlotte, George’s best friend and fellow expatriate, who knows the full extent of what George is going through.
There’s no question that A Single Man was a novel ahead of its time. Throughout its prose, Isherwood’s references to homosexuality are subtle, and therein lies the genius of this book. It’s impossible to turn its last page without realizing George’s sexuality doesn’t define him, and how universal the concept of bereavement is. It’s quite moving.
Note: Many thanks to Picador for sending me a review copy of A Single Man.
** You can buy a copy of A Single Man here on Book Depository with free shipping.