Published 1964 by University of Minnesota Press
Source: Care of Care's Online Book Club (see Care's review of this book here)
A Single Man is a single day in the life of George, a college professor in 1962 Southern California. Because the book is only 186 pages long and only chronicles one day in a life, it might be assumed that not much would happen, that not much could be learned. You would be wrong. Isherwood packs a lot of life into this novella.
George is a sad, middle-aged man, trying to come to cope with his grief following the death of his lover and struggling with his conflicted opinions of his own self-worth.
In this day, George will teach a class; visit, in the hospital, the woman who tried to take Jim away from George; have dinner with a female friend; and enjoy a drunken romp on the beach with a student.
George is an outsider--he is British, he is gay, he lives in a neighborhood filled with families. George doesn't even feel like he fits in with the other professors in his department. He is conflicted in so many ways. "He does so hate unpleasantness" but he is deeply angry about what he thinks of a "The Enemy," developers, politicians, his neighbors, any one who is anti-gay. George has even developed an internal persona, "Uncle George," who will orchestrate a terrorist retaliation who will fight back against everyone George feels is responsible for Jim's death. But, no, George's British restraint will not let him go far with this line of thinking. The idea of actually teaching his classes appeals to him; at the beginning of class when he has prepared himself and before the students begin to lose interest.
"His lips curve in a faint but bold smile. Some of them smile back at him. George finds this frank confrontation extraordinarily exhilarating. He draws strength from these smiles, these bright young eyes. For him, this is one of the peak moments of the day. He feels brilliant, vital, challenging, slightly mysterious and, above all, foreign. His neat dark clothes, his white dress shirt and tie (the only tie in the room) are uncompromisingly alien from the aggressively virile informality of the young male students."You may never read a book in which you learn more about a character. George's struggles to define who he is are brilliant. In the opening pages we see George "composing" himself in front of a mirror, literally putting on the face he will present to the world. But there are many different "faces" of George. To the neighbor children, he is "That Man," that man that doesn't want them on his lawn, who will "roar" at them. He hates this about himself, while at the same time realizing that this is exactly the role the children want him to play and so he does. I never could decide how I felt about George. A part of me felt very sorry for him. A part of me wanted to slap him upside the head.
"Because, absurdly, inadequately, in spite of himself, almost, he is a representative of the hope. And the hope is not false. No. It's just that George is a like a man trying to sell a real diamond for a nickel, on the street. The diamond is protected from all but the tiniest few, because the great hurrying majority can never stop to dare to believe that it could conceivably be real."Thanks, Care, for sending this one to me and introducing me to Isherwood. Can't wait to pick up the movie and see Colin Firth as George.