A Single Man follows George, a 50-something English Professor at the local college, shortly after his lover Jim had passed. The book spans a solitary day in his life and serves as an examination on loss. Isherwood presents George’s determination to move forward. He shines a light on life’s unexpected pleasures and the soul’s ability to triumph over the loneliness and alienation.
What I found most interesting is the narrator’s voice. It simultaneously reads like it is, and is not, George. The relationship, particularly in the way it is presented, is not dissimilar to that of Hulk’s and Bruce Banner. The one in control is George’s mind, an unemotional captain at the steering wheel. There are numerous times where it decides what I ascribe to be George’s soul or heart to “take control” and come to the fore i.e. what the world knows George to be. This is evident whenever in the presence of others like in the passages at the college. There is an undeniable tension between both forces. Perhaps the mind took control as a coping mechanism after the heart shattered. It is an unexpectedly relatable depiction of turmoil. George is caught between the rawness of the heart and the steadfastness of the mind.
Even though it is a heart-shattering portrayal of a man in grief, there is a life-affirming quality in how George manages to grieve. He is sad, but not depressed. While the love and memory of Jim stings, it also implores and empowers him to pick up the pieces, steady as it may be.
This reads very much like a treatise on loss. At the core, it is a loss of identity, that Isherwood underscores as we follow George in a day in his life. Every activity – be it getting dressed, going to the supermarket, or teaching his class – is entangled with Jim in some way. Isherwood’s prose is, sans doubt, the highlight of the work; it is dense but deeply rewarding to read. It manages to be haunting, melancholic, comical, and impersonal yet undeniably intimate.