Shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize in 2016, All That Man Is is a novel that surprisingly lends itself to the short story form. Instead of chapters there are nine sections that follow the lives of nine separate men, starting with young teenagers on the cusp of adulthood, travelling abroad for the first time and ending with a retired man, recovering from a serious operation. In a way that novel comes full circle, starting with Simon and Ferdinand’s inter-railing experience, and ending with Simon’s grandfather, anxious and alone.
It seems as if whatever stage of life you are at uncertainty is a constant. The hopeless youth in ‘2’ sacrifices a steady job with his uncle to go on holiday with a friend. When his friend inevitably bails, he goes to Cyprus anyway, and finds that it doesn’t meet his expectations. The hotel is not what had been promised. There is no functioning shower, meals are microwaved and it’s a long walk to civilisation. It’s a theme that is revisited frequently in the following sections, reality rarely lives up to fantasy, but it doesn’t stop these men from hoping and being inevitably disappointed by the outcome.
It’s these fantasies that pull these men away from the familiar. In one, Murray has isolated himself from his family by moving to a small town in Croatia where the locals despise him, renting a flat where the possessions of the owner’s deceased mother still remains. He has one tentative friendship that is based on mutual purposelessness, and when that is threatened, he attempts to deny how empty his life is, instead of confronting it. It’s a denial shared by many of the men in All That Man Is in their desperation to make a name for themselves, to gain money, and love, and to hide from truths they would rather not face.
Despite the broad geographical scope, locations are revisited. Stansted Airport and Park Lane reappear more than once, linking these international stories to London but also to each other. From the troubled millionaire to the reluctant bodyguard, these are all men in crisis. The countries may change but the men are the same.