A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Cover image

My colleague gave me this book to read whilst at the airport waiting for our flight back from Munich and so — with not much else to do — I jumped straight into reading, having never heard of the book nor seen the (famous?) film.

All in all it is a slightly unusual book; there isn’t really much to the story, but what pushes it up from 3 stars to 3.5 is that the writing style is intriguing. But let me give you some background first.

Plot summary:

In this brilliantly perceptive novel, a middle-aged professor living in California is alienated from his students by differences in age and nationality, and from the rest of society by his homosexuality. Isherwood explores the depths of the human soul and its ability to triumph over loneliness, alienation, and loss.


As you can perhaps tell from the plot summary, this book doesn’t have a plot. It is actually not my kind of book at all, and yet despite my misgivings I found myself enjoying the story more than expected.

A Single Man is the recounting of one day in George the professor’s life, literally from the moment he wakes up to when he goes back to bed. It’s slice of life fiction, the snapshot of time. George is in an unusual situation: his longterm partner Jim has recently passed away and he is in a society where being gay is seen at best as an oddity.

George’s only recourse to his bereavement is to keep on going as he always has, and find a safety net in that routine. As such the book very much focuses on the mundane details of George’s day to day life — his walk to university, lecturing the students, the small interactions he has with people…. And I think that’s a strength of the book. The story is a very intimate portrayal of grief and loneliness, and how these emotions can touch even the smallest things.

The writing is sparse, succint, and most of all very honest; we get to see George, warts and all. And yet there is a distance, too — George is still numb, and being an intellectual he views things often dispassionately. The end result is a touching and dark portrayal of the human condition which reaches out even to the modern reader with its fumbling attempts to create relationships in order to give some meaning to existence.

In sum, it’s a stark narrative, but a quiet and subtle page turner. George feels like he could be your next door neighbour, your friend, or even you.

This book is one of my 100+ Reading Challenge!


About A.M. Harte

A.M. Harte writes twisted speculative fiction, such as the post-apocalyptic Above Ground and the zombie love anthology Hungry For You. She is excellent at missing deadlines, has long forgotten what ‘free time’ means, and is utterly addicted to chocolate.
This entry was posted in Classics, Reviews and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

  1. Harrie says:

    spot on i’d say!

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