A Single Man takes place over 24 hours in 1962. George is a 58-year-old Englishman, and a university professor somewhere near Los Angeles. Several months earlier his partner Jim died suddenly, and George is trying to put his life back together. He goes through the motions of his daily routine, teaches his English classes, speculates on his students’ lives outside of class, chats with neighbors, and visits a woman friend. He is haunted by memories of Jim and their life together — a life that, in 1962, was a closely guarded secret.
This book is billed as “one of the first and best novels of the gay liberation movement.” I probably don’t understand the movement’s history well enough to appreciate the significance of this work, and viewed through a 21st-century lens, it’s not as daring as it was in the 1960s. But the blurb on my edition also describes it as “constantly funny, surprisingly sad,” and for me, it failed to delivery. I couldn’t muster the expected emotions. George certainly mourned Jim, but I didn’t feel his grief. I saw him simply putting one foot in front of the other and erecting a barrier around himself, one I thought as the reader I’d be able to break through.
So the book didn’t work for me, but I haven’t given up. It was made into a film starring Colin Firth, and I’ve just discovered it’s available from my local library. This could be the subject of a future “book vs. movie” post!