Nine men. Each of them at a different stage of life, each of them away from home, and each of them striving – in the suburbs of Prague, beside a Belgian motorway, in a cheap Cypriot hotel – to understand just what it means to be alive, here and now.
Tracing an arc from the spring of youth to the winter of old age, All That Man Is brings these separate lives together to show us men as they are – ludicrous and inarticulate, shocking and despicable; vital, pitiable, hilarious, and full of heartfelt longing. And as the years chase them down , the stakes become bewilderingly high in this piercing portrayal of twenty-first -century manhood.
A book that has sat on my shelf for some years now since I bought it as part of a set of the 2016 Man Booker Prize Shortlist. But I like short stories and its remaining on the shelf was simply a case of ‘too many books, too little time’. But 20 Books of Summer has changed that and enabled me to select books and adhere to my plans with a degree of discipline.
Told chronologically, the stories of nine different men spanning a lifetime, first, we meet Simon who is travelling with his friend prior to university, later the book concludes as we meet his Grandfather, in his latter years spending some time in Italy contemplating his marriage. The stories are all separate and not specifically linked although subtle references do join some stories, like meeting Grandfather and Grandson, mentioned only in passing but an aspect I liked and enjoyed. In between is a grim holiday in Cyprus, a seedy tale of media exposure and a man contemplating suicide – having lost his two great loves – his woman and his money.
The stories reference love and hope, later, loss and a certain cynicism slip in as reflection is a theme as life moves on. None of the stories are happy tales, and none of the men are portrayed especially positively, but all are entertaining and engaging to read though, snippets of a moment in time, told with a touch of dark humour which only added to the entertainment factor.
I enjoy short stories but an essential feature of such writing is a certain sharpness which the stories in this book do not lack. Each story is about 50 pages long and broken down into chapters. The writing flowed eloquently and it was not difficult to see why this book was prize nominated fiction.
I think this would appeal to fans of short stories and those who enjoy literary fiction, although those who enjoy general / contemporary fiction should also consider this snap shot into the male psyche.
About the Author
David Szalay is the author of four other works of fiction: Spring, The Innocent, London and the South-East and Turbulence. Born in Canada, he grew up in London, and now lives in Budapest. In 2013 he was named as one of Granta’s Bestof Young British Novelists.