Can all that one is - all that one's life amounts to - be captured in a single moment? It seems impossible, and yet, with his most recent novel, David Szalay has accomplished something almost as unlikely. He has managed to build a series of seemingly unrelated stories around those equally rare moments at which it feels as though something deeply significant - something life-altering - is at stake; those moments at which the very idea we have of ourselves and what we are capable of is either confirmed, or irrevocably shaken.
The problematic nature (to put it lightly) of contemporary masculinity has been the subject of much debate in recent times, and rightfully so. What this book helps to remind us of, however, is the absolutely crucial role for challenging and ambitious fiction for such discussions. Clear-eyed and merciless in its depiction of male shortcomings, Szalay's book is nevertheless full of empathy for its flawed - but recognizably human - characters. What sets this apart from the typical 'man-in-crisis' novel is the length Szalay is willing to go to to uncover the hidden corners of its protagonists' inner lives.
Bitterness, pathos and a hint of transcendence combine to make 'All That Man Is' essential reading.