This Book is a part of Man Booker 2016 Longlist Read Series
There is a popular quote according to India’s great old Vedic literature that provides guidance on acquaintance. As it turns out it is ideal for a man to stay in close association with someone who is one and half times his age and for a woman, the equation adjusts to twice the age.
David Szalay’s “All That Man Is” takes care of both the equations and plugs in way too many variables to explain the behaviors of a man over his lifetime. It is not a Boyhood-ish narration because we are not tracking the life on only one individual. These are nine different men at various phases of their lifecycle- and what is the connecting theme? Well, I am more than puzzled.
Book #: 32
Title: “All That Man Is” by David Szalay
“All That Man Is” made it to the longlist of Man Booker 2016 for “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.”
It is ludicrous and despicable for sure but vital, pitiable and hilarious is being way too lenient.
There are three common themes that tie (if you wish to call it so) the story together, otherwise, it is a simple anthology of nine different short stories with no absolute conclusions to be drawn at the end of each section.
Theme 1: Men. All of them, hence the title, from different phases of life. A seventeen-year-old, all the way till the retiree who is apparently the grandfather of the seventeen-year-old walk you through the current phase of their life. One interesting tidbit about this vaguely connected book is the topics the dialogues were built. The conversation will other characters replicate the phase they are in.
Theme 2: European Union: If you are from East and waiting for that one holiday trip to cover Europe, this is an abstract of the beginners’ guide. The story moves around EU and explains how the men in Europe respond to the situation they are currently in. This is the big non-significant variable (in statistics terms) that was included in the equation which messes any correlations you wish to find with Behavior of Men at different phases of their lives.
Theme 3: Women. Yes, we totally understand the book is about men. But as in this universe, the men can never escape from two things: women and himself. Neither of David Szalay’s characters does either. But, the stories reach a phase where you pause a minute and think “Wait. I have met better women.” All the women in this book had only one thing to do: seduce the man. Except for the first and the last stories- which according to me are the best stories.
Overall, David Szalay’s intent to narrate the challenges and conflicts that men from various phases of life encounter is worth picking up the book. But, the love towards this story fades away as the woman enters his life. The narration changes from being good-to-know to when-do-they-kiss-next. I am surprised with the lack of closures to these stories as you move on to the next because you want to know what led him do an act or what are the consequences of it.
David Szalay compiles nine very interesting men but couldn’t keep the emotional tab on them and so the moment you switch to next chapter; you have already forgotten who is the previous one.
Man Booker 2016 Longlist Read Series:
“The North Water” by Ian McGuire
“His Bloody Project” by Graeme Macrae Burnet
“The Sellout” by Paul Beatty