All That Man Is: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016

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9780224099776: All That Man Is: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016

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. Szalay is a writer of supreme gifts-a master of a new kind of realism that vibrates with detail, intelligence, relevance, and devastating pathos.

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About the Author :

David Szalay is the author of London and the South-East, which won the Betty Trask Prize and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize; The Innocent; and Spring. In 2013 he was named one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists. He lives in Budapest.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :

He leaves the office two hours earlier than usual. Mid-afternoon, half-empty train to Gatwick. A window seat on the plane. Weak tea, and a square of chocolate with a picture of Alpine pasture on the wrapper. And then it hits him. Floating over the world, the hard earth fathoms down through shrouds of mist and vapour, the thought hits him like a missile. Wham. This is it. This is all there is. There is nothing else.
     A silent explosion.
     He is still staring out the window.
     This is all there is.
     It’s not a joke. Life is not a joke.

She is waiting for him at arrivals, holding up an iPad with his name on it, though she knows what he looks like from his picture on the website and approaches him, smiling, as he stands there facing the wall of drivers with their flimsy signs.
     ‘James?’ she says.
     The difference in height is significant.
     ‘You must be Paulette.’
     She has a scar – is it? – on her lower lip, a pale little lump, somewhat off centre. There is a handshake. ‘Welcome to Geneva,’ she says.
     And then, the motorway – on stilts, through tunnels. France. The low sun on one side of his face. Fresh evening light.
     She says, ‘So, tomorrow.’
     ‘Yes.’ He is watching something outside, something on the move in the green-gold light. Everywhere he looks, he sees money.
     ‘I’ve arranged for us to meet them at the site,’ she says.
     ‘Fine. Thank you.’ She is efficient, he knows that. She answers his emails promptly, with everything he needs.
     He had started speaking to her in French, as he followed her out of the arrivals lounge. She had answered in English, and for a minute there was a silly situation with each of them speaking the other’s language.
     An immaculate, turning tunnel – a sound like holding a shell to your ear.
     Then the long, late-summer dusk again.
     He says, in English, ‘What’s the weather going to be like? Tomorrow.’ It is important, will make a difference.
     ‘Like this,’ she says. ‘Perfect.’
     ‘That’s nice.’
     ‘I arranged it for you.’ It sounds slightly awkward, the way she says that.
     He smiles tiredly.
     Stops smiling.
     Shifts his feet in the footwell.
     ‘Well,’ he says, after too long a pause, ‘thank you.’
     The surge of the motorway is making him sleepy.
     The lush glow of everything. Outside, green slopes strive skywards, rich with evening sunlight, thickly gold.

Les Chalets du Midi Apartments consists of twelve brand new apartments in one of the most lovely valleys in the French Alps. There is a wide variety of 1, 2, 3 and 4 bedroom apartments available from 252,000 euros ex VAT located in a central location in the lively and popular village of Samoëns. The village of Samoëns is a charming French village with many shops, restaurants and bars . . .

     How many years has he been doing this now?
     They leave the motorway at Cluses, and she pays a toll.
     Cluses is prosaic, a series of small roundabouts. Flower baskets hanging from street lights. Midget plane trees brutally pollarded in the French fashion. It is where she lives, she tells him. She leans forward over the wheel to look up at some window and, pointing with a lifted index finger, says, ‘That’s where I live.’
     ‘Okay,’ he says, pretending to be interested.
     Then they have left the town and are hairpinning up the side of the valley. On the other side, mountains soak up what is left of the sunlight.
     She lowers her window a little. The air smells of manure, wet grass. ‘Do you know the area?’ she asks.
     He says he doesn’t. ‘Mostly we do stuff a bit further south,’ he ex­plains. ‘Cham. Val d’Isère.’
     She nods.
     ‘Courchevel.’
     She works for the developer, Noyer.
     ‘I cover part of Switzerland too,’ he tells her.
     ‘I see.’
     The hairpins are over. The road passes through villages, under trees, through massing shadow.
     ‘This is nice,’ he says politely.
     She nods again. ‘Yes, it’s nice, up here.’
     ‘Very. Has Monsieur Noyer got other plans?’ he asks, trying not to sound too interested. ‘After this.’
     ‘I think so. You can ask him, on Friday.’ ‘I will.’ He wonders what Noyer is like, whether they’ll get on. What Noyer will make of his proposal. He isn’t even sure what his proposal will be yet. He needs to think about that.
     ‘It’s more and more popular, this area,’ she says.
     ‘I bet.’
     ‘It’s more typical,’ she says, ‘than the more established areas.’
     ‘Seems like it.’
     A village. They slow markedly – severe speed humps. Trees heavy with moss. Ski-hire shops – Location du ski – shuttered out of season. Signs advertising honey for sale.
     ‘We’re nearly there,’ she says, accelerating as they leave the village. ‘It’s the next one.’
     It is evening now, unambiguously. She has turned on the headlights.
     There is a long straight stretch with solemn tall pines. Then the road swings left, passes over the noise of hurrying water – he sees it fraying white over stones – and they are there. ‘Here we are,’ she says.
     A mass of signage meets them – signs for hotels, pizzerias, walking trails, ski lifts. Everyone trying to make some sort of living.
     And then the deeper gloom of a modest avenue of trees.
     On either side of the road, among the apartment buildings, a few old blackened barns still stand in unsold fields.
     Quickly, imprecisely, seeing them through the trees, he tries to work out what they might be worth, those fields.

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