Teenagers Simon and Ferdinand, inter-railing through Europe, meeting different men and women, seeing the world and yet not finding themselves. Bérnard, failed at university now employed by his uncle and sacked after only a couple of days, sets out for a holiday on Cyprus where he finds sex, but not love as expected. Gabor and Balazs, about 30 years old, accompany Emma to London where she earns some money as a prostitute. Kristian, a Danish journalist with the story of his life – before turning 40 he reached more than he could ever dream of. James has to face the opposite: his business in the Alps does not run as expected. Murray also has to face a loss: his mother, but there is more to lose in Croatia. Alexandr, once he profited from the turmoil in Russia and became a big fish, now only suicide can save him. Tony, quite advanced in age, has to cope with the knowledge that his life will come to an end, rather sooner than later.
The different stories in David Szalay’s book are in a way independent from each other. They play in different countries, the characters come from completely different backgrounds and social classes at completely different points of their lives. The only linking element is the fact that they are all male and in some way they are aging. We start with the youngest and end with a man who has lived his life – interestingly, the youngsters reappear in this chapter. In this way, there is an inherent logic in the arrangement of the stories.
Some of them I liked more, especially the first with Simon and Ferdinand and the one about the journalist, others were more difficult to relate to. What I appreciated about all of them was the fact that Szalay gives deep insight the characters’ thoughts and motivations, to me they all seemed quite authentic and imaginable. Taken together he portrays not all that man is, but quite a lot of it.