All That Man Is by David Szalay




David Szalay (born 1974 in Montreal, Quebec) is an English writer.

He was born in Canada, moved to the UK the following year and has lived there ever since. He studied at Oxford University and has written a number of radio dramas for the BBC.

He won the Betty Trask Award for his first novel, London and the South-East, along with the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. Since then he has written two other novels: Innocent (2009) and Spring (2011).

He has also recently been named one of The Telegraph’s Top 20 British Writers Under 40 and has also made it onto Granta magazine’s 2013 list of the Best of Young British Novelists.

A fourth novel All That Man Is was longlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2016.


A magnificent and ambitiously conceived portrait of contemporary life, by a genius of realism.

Nine men. Each of them at a different stage in life, each of them away from home, and each of them striving–in the suburbs of Prague, in an overdeveloped Alpine village, beside a Belgian motorway, in a dingy Cyprus hotel–to understand what it means to be alive, here and now. Tracing a dramatic arc from the spring of youth to the winter of old age, the ostensibly separate narratives of All That Man Is aggregate into a picture of a single shared existence, a picture that interrogates the state of modern manhood while bringing to life, unforgettably, the physical and emotional terrain of an increasingly globalized Europe. And so these nine lives form an ingenious and new kind of novel, in which David Szalay expertly plots a dark predicament for the twenty-first-century man.

Dark and disturbing, but also often wickedly and uproariously comic, All That Man Is is notable for the acute psychological penetration Szalay brings to bear on his characters, from the working-class ex-grunt to the pompous college student, the middle-aged loser to the Russian oligarch. Steadily and mercilessly, as this brilliantly conceived book progresses, the protagonist at the center of each chapter is older than the last one, it gets colder out, and All That Man Is gathers exquisite power. Szalay is a writer of supreme gifts–a master of a new kind of realism that vibrates with detail, intelligence, relevance, and devastating pathos.


Now this is what I call a good read, a strong read and read with character. It is basically a collection of short stories targeted at men readers, but I found it not only amusing but also enlightening and I feel that more women should pay attention here. On that note, don’t hurry tp judge the book on the first half, because then you’d be left with the opinion of men being an annoying, despicable breed not to be around. Being a certain amount of a tom-boy all my life, I have always taken the man’s side in enlargements and such, for me it was an important eye-opening read. I am not saying I was completely sold to it, but it definitely got my attention.

The book consists of nine stories which present a glimpse in the everyday life of 9 men, of different ages, starting from 17 to 70, coming from different social backgrounds. The characters live in various European cities and each story involves travelling to different places. The author is trying to create a portrait of the universal European Man, to convey the message that, in the end, man is all the same. There are some common themes that link the stories, among them is the way the characters regard time. At the beginning, when they are young the characters regard time with indifference, obsessing about sex, money, fame, career. Later in life they start to regret the missed opportunities, the mistakes they made with their choices, they stress there is no more time to change. In the end, there is the fear of death.

I had a very deep conversation on the matter with my dad, and he confirmed that mostly if the average man had to be described and a certain stereotype created then these would be the generic man this book speaks of… Sadly, I find it a bit too dehumanising, the men in the stories left me disinterested, even bored at times… I have never been so disappointed in a man my whole life, but then again, maybe I have the luck to always be surrounded by special humans.

While I am still on the list of dislikes about the book:

Although, I give credit to the author for the talent, technique and pure language play, there was a serious inconsistency of quality in the stories. I felt that the quality of the stories progressed, the first stories were quite boring and the last two were the best. I wonder if this was the intention of the author. As one grows he becomes sager and life has more meaning, etc. Finally, I did not like how the women were represented. The women in these stories have no personality, they are mainly an accessory for men. Is this what men are looking for? I understand this is a novel about self-absorbed men but it still felt uncomfortable.

Overall, I didn’t find this to be the philosophical and elegiac experience I might have expected. The prose is great, though; I’d certainly read a more straightforward novel by Szalay. This one, though, was a mediocre one for me.




A potato with a book. Screams German words when angry. Known as the Mid-night Chocolate Thief. Breathes to write and mingle. Observes and remembers. Pokes you when you least expect it. Can be put on a stand by mode with a cup of coffee/ tea.

2 thoughts on “All That Man Is by David Szalay

  1. Wow, great review. I didn’t know about this author, but seeing he was born in my hometown as the first sentence to lead this post already had me on a hook. 😛 Sucks that it had those flaws though.

    – Lashaan

    Liked by 1 person

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