‘A Single Man’ is a portrait of a single day in the life of George, a lonely, late middle-aged Englishman living in Santa Monica and teaching at a university in LA. George is gay. Thus far, thus autobiographical. George has in the recent past lost his lover, Jim, in a car accident, and is slowly coming to terms with his loss. We follow him and his internal monologue through the course of a day as he gets up, drives to work, presents a lecture to a very diverse group of students, and then goes to the gym, all the while narrating his progress, and simply holding it together. One gets the impression of a man on the edge, terrified of growing old and being alone, conscious of the need to keep his sexuality, still taboo in America at this time, secret, but equally being struck by lust several times during the course of the day. He needs to grieve, but is unable to do so – indeed, he has told his neighbours that his ‘friend’, Jim, has simply moved away, rather than acknowledging his death and having to respond to their condolences.
There are some difficult scenes where Isherwood/George describes his disgust with the female body, including his dying ‘friend’, Doris, previously a short-term lover of his partner, Jim. He remembers her as:
“that big, arrogant animal of a girl…With that body which sprawled stark naked, gaping wide in shameless demand…gross insucking vulva, sly ruthless greedy flesh, in all the bloom and gloss and arrogant resilience of youth…I am Doris…I am Bitch-Mother nature.” (75)
There is plenty more in this vein. You could read this as George hitting out in his grief at someone who tried to steal his partner from him, but the visceral nature of the description reveals a nastier strain of misogyny. Heterosexuals generally get quite a hard time – children are described as appearing “litter after litter” (9) and even ‘Children at play’ traffic signs are seen as sinister. This is the interior narrative of a bitter sad, single man. His anger and resentment of the heterosexual families that encroach on his bohemian community is understandable, but nonetheless unpleasant.