I read A Single Man shortly after my partner passed away. At the time I opened it on my Kobo, I was looking for something quick to read, but heavier than a Stephen King novel. I’m a huge fan of the movie adaptation with Colin Firth, and I listen to the motion picture soundtrack when I need to chill out. I’ve listened to the audiobook, but I was on the Stairmaster most of the time, and could barely remember where audiobook started and the movie ended.
A Single Man is great if you’re in mourning, or dealing with a dramatic life-change. Christopher Isherwood famously wrote the book while he and the love of his life, Dan Bachardy, were “On a break”.
The book captures perfectly how it feels to suddenly be alone. The opening passages about George putting on his face and assuming the role he plays for his neighbours and colleagues, pretty much nails that whole process on the head. There were so many little moments in the book where I thought, “Oh my God, that’s exactly how I feel.”
For what should have been a really maudlin book, A Single Man is actually quite uplifting. Unlike the movie, the book doesn’t introduce a gun at the beginning of the story. As you follow George on his morning, you get the impression he’s a bit of curmudgeon, but once he leaves the college where he teaches, he starts to experience a transformation that carries him through to the end of the novel.
What surprised me the most about this book was that it wasn’t about loss, but about re-birth. On the surface, it’s a story about a gay man dealing with the loss of his partner pre-Stonewall, but it’s really a story of a man coming back to life.
“The past is just something that’s over,” George tells his friend Charley over a dinner that has undertones of Absolutely Fabulous even when it was written in the Sixties. By the last page of the book I was convinced that middle-aged George, would one day fall in love again.
A Single Man is a good book if you’re looking for something literary but accessible. There are some great descriptions of Los Angles in the Sixties; the narrative certainly has a time capsule feel to it. This is one of those period pieces that remind you that things may have changed, but they always stay the same.