A Single Man

A Single Man - Christopher Isherwood

Waking up begins with saying am and now.

That which has awoken then lies for a while staring up at the ceiling and down into itself until it has recognised I, and therefrom deduced I am, I am now. Here comes next, and is at least negatively reassuring; because here, this morning, is where it had expected to find itself; what’s called at home. 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 labelled with its date, rendering all past nows obsolete, until – later or sooner – perhaps – no, not perhaps – quite certainly: It will come.

 

For its brevity, this book is packed with ideas and story. It's such a fine example of an author making every word count.

 

Making things count is also on the mind of George, our MC, who is trying to come to grips with life after the death of his partner, Jim. Right from the start of the book, he is looking for a way to emerge from his loss and live again as a single man. But in a setting where he cannot be openly himself, where he even feels like his best friend does not understand him, it is difficult for him to express himself and to be acknowledged. Instead, he feels invisible.

‘You’re going to walk home like that? Are you crazy? They’d call the cops!’

Kenny shrugs his shoulders good-humouredly.

‘Nobody would have seen us. We’re invisible – didn’t you know?’

Invisibility is a theme in that run through the book from George's bathroom window a few pages from the start to the invisible inner workings of his heart at the end of the book.  

It's an invisibility that is heartbreaking: George's expression of shock and grief at learning of Jim's death gets mistaken for ambivalence, and even when he breaks down at his friend Charlotte's it happens under the cloak of darkness. No one sees him. No one sees Jim. 

 

Christopher Isherwood is one of the writers that I would like to read more of. I had mostly thought of him as the creator of Sally Bowles and the Berlin novels that inform so much of our pop culture view of the 1920s, but this 1960s novel of his makes me really want to revisit the Berlin novels from the point of looking at his writing. I really loved how much he could make happen in a such a concise way.

But is all of George altogether present here? Up the coast a few miles north, in a lava reef under the cliffs, there are a lot of rock pools. You can visit them when the tide is out. Each pool is separate and different, and you can, if you are fanciful, give them names – such as George, Charlotte, Kenny, Mrs Strunk. Just as George and the others are thought of, for convenience, as individual entities, so you may think of a rock pool as an entity; though, of course, it is not.

The waters of its consciousness – so to speak – are swarming with hunted anxieties, grim-jawed greeds, dartingly vivid intuitions, old crusty-shelled rock-gripping obstinacies, deep-down sparkling undiscovered secrets, ominous protean organisms motioning mysteriously, perhaps warningly, toward the surface light. How can such a variety of creatures coexist at all? Because they have to. The rocks of the pool hold their world together. And, throughout the day of the ebb tide, they know no other.