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All That Man Is by David Szalay

All That Man Is (2016)

by David Szalay

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Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
I probably wouldn't have bothered with this, if I'd known it to be more a collection of short stories than a novel. Still, the tales of (mostly unconnected) men grappling with their own weaknesses against a backdrop of various European settings offer insights into what it is to be selfish, lonely, ambitious, greedy and spiteful, while also trying to be something better and someone happier. ( )
  ColinCampbell | Sep 8, 2017 |
Not a novel, really, but short stories spanning the ages of Man. As with most collections, the quality varies wildly - the journalist's tale stood out as particularly makeweight - but the first two stories are so good that I was still well disposed to the book by the end. ( )
  alexrichman | Aug 16, 2017 |
Beautifully written, but ultimately unsatisfying, this collection of short pieces could have been titled " The General Uselessness of Men". All that man is, suggests David Szalay, is ultimately not very much at all. Having just read "The Girls" by Emma Cline - where there is nary a male character in sight - it feels somehow appropriate to follow it by reading a book about men, in which almost every female merely exists to demonstrate to the male protagonists their own inferiority by being accessible to almost all males other than them. See the Serbian landlady in Story 1, Iveta from Latvia in Story 2, Emma the Hungarian pornstar / escort in Story 3, Ksena the trophy wife in Story 8 (hmm and they are mainly Eastern European too - what's going on there?)etc

In brief the 9 pieces, short stories if you like, follow everyman characters (although it must be said that most are comfortably white and middle class) through a lifetime of male crisis points. The early sexual hesitancy, chasing the unachievable, settling for what you can get, throwing yourself at what you've got, chasing and getting something you don't actually want, feeling there must be must be more to life that this, realising that what you do want is no longer available to you, losing everything and waiting for time to run out. Depressing no? But the characterisation is so good, that somehow its not depressing and you want to settle in with all of these characters for more than the 50 or so pages you get

And that's why this is unsatisfying ultimately. Szalay is so good at instantly setting a scene, at creating immediate empathy with these bumbling characters, has so many good jokes and nice points of observation that you want to stay with them for longer - well, other than Kristian the po-faced Danish journalist in Story 4, that is. In my view Szalay would have been better to choose one or two of these characters and create something richer. Nothing stopping him doing that in future of course, and I hope he does. This is very readable and entertaining but could have been more ( )
1 vote Opinionated | Jul 23, 2017 |
This is a lovely, beautifully-written book about the life-minds of ten European men. Some have said that it seems more a collection of short stories than a novel, but that's not the case--it's like a die with ten sides. The empathy and compassion for the characters is wonderful. ( )
  Smartjanitor | Jun 11, 2017 |
Throughout most of the book, David Szalay’s novel really seems to be nine separate short stories. Each section focuses on a different man facing a mental quandary, brought about largely by their own actions and behaviours. The men are all very different, varying in age, nationality and social or financial status, yet all find themselves suddenly questioning their values, goals and lifestyles.

Szalay’s mastery is most powerfully evident in his management of the different strands of story. Each of the segments is individually haunting, and the reader (well, certainly this reader) is left baffled about how the separate threads might be resolved. While each story is recounted in the third person, they all demonstrate a unique authorial voice: sometimes funny, occasionally grim, but always masterful. The characters are often far from masterful – the book revolves around the consideration of unfulfilled ambition or unsatisfied desire.

This is a sustained and successful essay in imaginative composition. It could so easily have failed (so many writers bite off more than they can chew when it comes to exploration of form), but there is a satisfying and rewarding cohesion to the novel.

While I have unsatisfied ambition and unfulfilled dreams of my own, I look forward to reading more by Mr Szalay. ( )
  Eyejaybee | May 28, 2017 |
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amazon ca :hese are brilliantly observed, large-hearted stories by a young writer that herald the introduction to a North American audience a major and mature literary talent. For readers of David Bezmozgis, Nathan Englander, Neil Smith, John Cheever, and Milan Kundera.
In this stunningly accomplished work, award-winning author David Szalay explores the terrain of manhood. Inhabited by characters at different stages in their lives, ranging from the teenage years to old age, this virtuoso collection portrays men in utterly real and compelling terms as they grapple with relationships and masculinity. Set in various European cities, the stories are dark and disturbing, some almost surreal, but always with accute psychological insight that renders them fascinating. They deal with pride and greed, jealousy and love, grief and loneliness. Funny and heart-achingly sad, sometimes shocking, because the stories are invariably true to life, this is a collection to be read and savoured.
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Here are nine men. Each of them is at a different stage in life, each of them is away from home, and each of them is striving - in the suburbs of Prague, in an over-developed Alpine village, beside a Belgian motorway, in a crap Cypriot hotel - to understand just what it means to be alive, here and now. Vibrating with detail and intelligence, pathos and surprise, All That Man Is is a portrait of contemporary manhood, contemporary Europe and contemporary life from a British writer of supreme gifts - the master of a new kind of realism.… (more)

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