So right after finishing Isherwood’s “A Single Man” last night I did this terrible (or wonderful?) thing of watching the movie based on the book. I was moved after the book, and it only got intensified after I finished the movie at 2:30 am last night. And I could not sleep until the morning. The terrible part is that I can’t tell which of the two was responsible for my insomnia in the end. The wonderful part that I had not been moved in such way in a very long time.
“A Single Man” follows George, a middle-aged university professor, through the 24 hours of one single day of his life. Such a short time span concerned me a little before starting the book, as I could not imagine it was going to be enough to get me immersed in its plot, but after I have finally closed the book, it felt like I have known George for my whole life.
We know from the very beginning that George is British, that he is gay and that he is grieving over the loss of his boyfriend Jim, whom he had used to share his house with. George’s grief is palpable, and although a year has already passed since Jim’s death, his shadow is present in George’s every move.
“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!”
George is willing to live in the Present, to live Now, because the Past is what has already been lost, and the future is Death. However, sticking to the Now is complicated, and he is constantly dragged to one side or another, to nostalgic memories or to concerns about what is waiting for him in the future.
“But now isn’t simply now. Now is also a cold reminder: one whole day later than yesterday, one year later than last year. Every now is labeled with its date, rendering all past nows obsolete, until — later of sooner — perhaps — no, not perhaps — quite certainly: it will come.”
I thoroughly enjoyed the critique of the society employed in the book, and even though it was written in the 60s, a lot of it is still valid nowadays. There is a lot of sarcasm in this book, but there is also this incredible subtlety with which the author treats some of the topics and which I couldn’t but love.
George’s and his student Kenny’s dialogue at the end of the book is one of these subtle and moving scenes that will haunt me forever. What an amazing comparison of youth and old age the author has provided us with. I can’t say any more about it, you will have to arrive to this scene on your own. And the journey will wear you out. And you will not regret it.