Book Blog: All that man is by David Szalay

Would you like to depress yourself?

When I was given this book recently by a friend, I was pleased. I had vaguely heard of it as being about men’s issues, and it won some book prize in 2016. In reality, it turned out to be one of the most depressing and irritating books I have read for some time.

The book consists of 9 longish short stories, and the central male figures get older each time, from 17 to 73. These central characters (I won’t confuse you by calling them heroes) range widely in wealth, nationality and lifestyle, but share several dismal things in common. All of them are thoroughly lost and lonely, in a life that has no meaning, no real beauty, no personal connections.

I got irritated, in fact angry about this book, because if David Szalay really believes that this is “all that man is,” he is demeaning and insulting them chronically. What he describes may be plausible, but who will be helped by a book like this with zero redeeming features, upsides, insights, chinks of hope?

The only story which touched me and had some depth of characterisation was the last one, about a man of 73. It’s the only story where love really features (as oppose to sex, power and other stereotypes). It touchingly depicts Tony’s sense of his own declining capacities and growing dependence on his family. Not much upside in sight for Tony: he could benefit from my forthcoming book, Not Fade Away, showing his generation how to find the upsides in getting older. You can buy it book here…

One of the few upsides I could take from this book was valuing the various steps I have taken over the past 20 years to dig myself out of some of the many challenges he depicts in the stories. For example: doing co-counselling, learning to express and hear emotions, working on relationship skills, forming a men’s group and more. Wouldn’t it be nice if even a couple of these 9 stories showed a man who learned from his mistakes, re-invented himself, and found meaning, love, and true connection? It is honestly hard for me to say if I would recommend this book to other men, if being deluged by depressing narrative would motivate you to take positive steps in your own life then rush out and buy this book!