Book Reviews, Books, Fiction

BOOK REVIEW: All That Man is by David Szalay

Published: April 2016 by Vintage

Pages: 448, Kindle Edition

Cover Rating: 5/5

Listed for THE 2016 MAN BOOKER PRIZE

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Over 400 pages, in David Szalay’s latest book, All That Man is, you get to vivisect the man part of our species by dwelling into nine different stories that are equivalent to nine different specimens of the male gender. Each man is younger than the next one and are away from home in a country in Europe. In one interview to a magazine, David told that he wanted to entitle the book Europa.

This book is a form of a novel. Even though every story has a different protagonist in terms of name, age, and living premises, each story progress gradually in a chronological order from a teenage boy of seventeen to a man of seventy-three in the last story. Each story is not without a plot and does not fail to seize on a moment of crisis in man’s life and quickly dramatizes it.

The entire book is written in present tense offering a variety of storylines having one theme in common. Writing is daring, direct, and engrossing enough for a reader to be hook from the first chapter. It is also repetitive at times, and I think this element of repetition works absolutely well.

“The feeling of loneliness is immense as a storm front. His friend, after ten days of travel, he finds irritating most of the time. He struggled to must a smile when he read out the postcard and showed him the little sketch he had done in green ink of bearded man. And the way he had sprayed himself with his Joop! before putting his pack in the locker at the station. The way he had ostentatiously lifted his T-shirt to spray the Joop!, to show world the whorl of hair on his chest… At the moment… And this is supposed to be his friend he is with. As immense as a storm front is the feeling of loneliness that overcomes him.”

After picking up this book on the basis of the blurb at the back of its cover, I did not expect the writing to be like this. It’s mesmerizing and calm at the same time or may be its calmness that is the mesmerizing factor. Every story has phrases, or moments I should say in the life of characters that is expressed in a brutally simple manner. This way, the author helps the reader to enjoy the scene, understand the psychology behind it, which is good if an author is making you able to think, in other terms to visualize without any hassle.

Common theme in this book is that all men are European, yet diverse and are moving to one country or another. Though with the diversity, it is clear to observe that how much similarity each share with one another. Some critics have pointed out that a collection of stories about white heterosexual males isn’t enough to fit a diverse population. I do not agree with them wholesomely. I think, as per my knowledge and due to my observance of the world, each character has different background, belonging from a different city or country, having different traditions, etc, does count diverse. Most of them are struggling with erotic and financial dilemmas. Each story involve women each appearing in different role such as waitress, prostitute, mother, wife, daughter as part and parcel of every man’s life they are indulge with.

Other elements such as life and loneliness are exhibit not to clearly but becomes a common pattern to follow and observe as one turns from one story to other. The novel becomes stronger and deeper as it progress but I feel the start of the novel is something to appreciate because of its innocence and the way writer tries to fill up the pages in an ingenuous way. There is a whole page in the first story when the two characters goes to hear Mozart’s Mass in C Minor in Prague. The following page has only two words printed on it, surrounding by white space indicating in some manner some kind of silence:

“The music.”

Overall, any reader who decides to pick this one will definitely enjoy it. If you decide not, you might miss something. I am eagerly looking forward to Szalay’s next work.

4 out of 5!


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