All That Man Is: A Novel
David Szalay’s novel is really a collection of nine novellas, each with a different protagonist, that combine to give a picture of — if not Life, then at least a life. Beginning with Simon, a seventeen year old traversing Europe, and ending with Tony, an elderly man attempting to make sense of the life he’s lived, All That Man Is mostly explores the loneliness of existence.
The novel starts with younger men like Bernard, a Frenchman on holiday in Cyprus, who isn’t so much on the pursuit of happiness as the pursuit of pleasure. Infatuated with a Latvian woman named Iveta, who he sees kissing another man, Bernard, hurt (and horny), sleeps with an obese woman also on holiday. The second half of the novel, where the protagonists are older and more introspective, is more poignant. Here, the older men worry they’ve wasted their lives pursuing women and money, neither of which will keep them from dying. A sad novel, its title isn’t a celebration of man’s limitless potential, but rather a mourning of his shortcomings. Lustful, greedy, insensitive. Flawed, in other words, is all that man is.
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