Sad characters. Dark situations. Brilliant, spare language.

  • Book: All That Man Is
  • Location: Europe
  • Author: David Szalay

Review Author: andrewmorris51

Location

Content

What an original piece of writing author David Szalay has created in All That Man Is.

In nine short stories he introduces us to nine different men, some young, some old, all highly flawed and all seemingly at a low point or key moment in their lives. The narrative is often grammatically terse and the dialogue always brilliantly observed, but each story is utterly compelling, even with ambiguous or inconclusive endings.

Bernard, sacked from a dead-end job, goes on holiday to Cyprus without his friend Baudouin , whose idea the trip had been. Bernard arrives in Protaras – ‘a dusty, unpleasant landscape. No sign of the sea. He is, on that air-conditioned bus, with little blue curtains that can be closed against the midday sun, the only person travelling on his own.‘

In the desolate Hotel Poseidon, Bernard sleeps with a cider-swilling fat girl – ‘actually fascinatingly huge‘ – and with her mother the next day. Later, lying on a beach, ‘he is aware of nothing except the heat of the sun. The heat of the sun. Life.’ The story ends.

Hustling estate agent James is looking to sell some overpriced new apartments in the French Alps, but is ambitious for more: ‘On either side of the road, among the apartment buildings, a few old blackened barns still stand in unsold fields. Quickly, imprecisely, seeing them through the trees, he tries to work out what they might be worth, those fields.‘

He passes up the opportunity to sleep with local agent Paulette. ‘There is a melancholy sense, as he takes off his socks, of opportunity lost.’

He returns home, unsure if he’s willing to risk losing his current job. ‘The day is windless. It’s not a joke. Life is not a joke.‘ The story ends.

Aleksandr is a Russian oligarch. A billionaire. Or he was. He’s losing almost everything and planning his own death. ‘The decision had been made standing at a window in Lowndes Square, staring out, The decision to jump into the sea. To drown himself. It had seemed like some sort of solution.‘

He takes a lonely, aimless trip on his super-yacht, but doesn’t jump. He contemplates how his diminished life could take shape. Or was he too like his uncle? ‘He had nothing left to live for. He had devoted his whole life to something, and it had failed. What else did he have left to live for? Nothing. It was over. That was it.’ The story ends.

Sad characters. Dark situations. Brilliant, spare language.

No wonder All That Man Is earned a Man Booker shortlist nomination in 2016 for David Szalay.

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Enter the 2021TripFiction 'Sense of Place' Creative Writing Competition! Entries close 6th November

A story in which the location plays as important a role as the rest of your words.

2,500 word maximum, 750 word minimum

Judges include Victoria Hislop and Rosanna Ley

First Prize of £1,000 / US$1,350

Prizes total £1,750 / US$2,362 

Winning entry published on TripFiction site and publicised on Social Media