David Szalay's 'unsparing' All That Man Is wins Gordon Burn prize

Booker-shortlisted author’s novel takes £5,000 award for its ‘darkly funny, marvellously observant’ stories

David Szalay’s All That Man Is, already shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker prize, has won the Gordon Burn award for a novel praised by judges as a work that “subtly changes the way you look at the contemporary world”.

A collection of linked stories about nine men at different stages of life, All That Man Is was named winner of the £5,000 prize on Friday evening. The award celebrates the legacy of the late Gordon Burn, looking for fiction and nonfiction that follows in the footsteps of an author described by organisers as a “literary polymath”.

Other books competing for the award included Jeremy Gavron’s memoir of his mother Hannah Gavron, A Woman on the Edge of Time, and Olivia Laing’s meditation on New York and “the art of being alone”, The Lonely City. Szalay was also up against another Booker-shortlisted novel, Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh, but judge and novelist William Boyd said that Szalay, who in 2013 was named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists, was an early frontrunner to take the prize.

“The overall standard of the shortlist – however individual the books – was exceptionally high. The merits of each title shone very brightly, fiction or nonfiction, and it was a difficult job to select a winner. It is an unusual but commendable feature of the prize that it will pit a novel against reportage or biography, but the mix doesn’t seem to pose any problem, interestingly enough,” said Boyd.

“Keeping Gordon Burn’s fiction and nonfiction in the back of our minds allowed us some real terms of reference in our necessarily subjective evaluation. As a result, in the final session, David Szalay’s All That Man Is emerged fairly swiftly as a frontrunner. It is a novel – like Gordon’s fiction – that subtly changes the way you look at the contemporary world. A very rare effect, in fact. In addition, it is darkly funny, marvellously observant and written with a confidence and limpidity that make it a really remarkable novel.”

Boyd was joined on the judging panel for the award, which is run in partnership by the Gordon Burn Trust, New Writing North, Faber & Faber and Durham book festival, by fellow novelist Jenn Ashworth, the journalist and writer Rachel Cooke and the artist and author Harland Miller.

Cooke agreed that All That Man Is “stood out … by a mile” from the rest of the shortlist. “Judging prizes is never easy. But this was fairly straightforward in the end. David’s book just seemed to float off into its own orbit,” she said. “It’s a witty book, sometimes savage, even, but it seems also to go places few novels and stories do now … So many different kinds of men are portrayed here, in so many different places, and with so unsparing an eye. It’s just fantastically well done.”

The prize has been won in the past by Dan Davies’ biography of Jimmy Savile, In Plain Sight, Paul Kingsnorth’s novel The Wake, and Benjamin Myers’s Pig Iron. As well as the £5,000, Szalay also wins the opportunity to take a writing retreat of up to three months at Burn’s cottage in Berwickshire.

Contributor

Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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