12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 7 July 2014
This is bad. I agree with the other one star critics. But I just had to add something: it is all so digressive.
The writing is like this: let's talk about Bowman, and what he is like, here is his new gal, forget Bowman, let's talk about her for a bit, here is her father, forget the girl, let's talk about the father for a bit, here is the father's sexual conquest, let's talk about her for a while, here is that girl's pony, let's talk about that pretty pony for a while.
Ok, the pony part didn't happen. But I wasn't sure it wouldn't! We never actually get to know the character, because Salter's unorganized mind fixes on some other character. And...just as we think 'OK, I'll give this character a try...' he moves on to the character's cousin or the brother-in-law, or the brother-in-law's work friends or whatever.
I'm not kidding. We move from bowman to vivian to her dad to her dad's cousin to her husband to her brother to his friends to someone else. Who cares? Who the heck cares? Especially when there is no plot.
When there is no plot, you need some real good characters. And it seems Salter cares about as much for his characters as he does his sock drawer, these on, these off, these on, these off.
Try Rules of Civility instead. There is not much plot in that book, but great characters and the author sticks with them.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 5 November 2014
Inside the front cover of this book are five pages of glowing praise from 26 different sources - The Times, The Guardian, Esquire..., you name it. Which leaves me wondering why I found it a bit tedious. Were they all bribed? Or is it me?
Richard Ford said there was a bit that "made me stand straight up out of my chair and have to walk around the room for several minutes". I can't recall a book ever doing that for me. Actually, Mr Ford's own book Canada came close, but this one certainly didn't. There's not much of a plot - basically an account of a series of relationships in the life of a not especially interesting person, with various asides describing other not terribly interesting people - so maybe it was one of the rare occasions when something out of the ordinary actually happened that grabbed Mr Ford's attention. Hardly enough to call it a good read though.
Never read anything by James Salter before, but he seems to have something of a reputation and I suspect that's what's driving the positive reviews rather than this particular book - if it was written by anyone else it wouldn't even get noticed (a bit like Bob Dylan's latest albums).
His other books may be OK for all I know, but I wouldn't recommend this one.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 27 August 2013
I'm halfway through and about to give up. I mean, who are all these people, its like my friend who starts one story and takes you through a series of unrelated events until you cry in desperation 'but what bloody happend?' And they all end up having sex in terribly meaningfull and symbolic ways like Salter has a list of metaphors for ways to come and and he's damn well going to use them all as he hasn't long to go(he's 87 I think.)
Take horses 'he came like a drinking horse'. I have a horse, in fact I have two and today I watched Foxy drink from the trough after I'd ridden. He put his lips into the water and very delicately sucked it up. What does he mean or did he hope we'd be too impressed to ask?
No, it started well but although I appreciate the tight writing all these sub sub plots are making me lose interest.
82 of 91 people found the following review helpful
on 28 May 2013
Ignore the gushing reviews. This novel is awful. Salter is, or rather was, a wonderful writer and has produced several memorable books, but this is really nothing like his best work. It is unfocussed, uneven and devoted to an outlook which is likely to make many readers cringe with embarrassment.
On the surface, the novel is about the life of a man searching for love. It sounds promising enough, but actually we know so little about him that we don't really care one way or the other. Also, the search is mainly about sex. He has sex with various beautiful women and then, when things go wrong, he has sex with someone else. The dominant tone is elegaic and the supreme moments of his life take place either immediately before or immediately after sex with someone he doesn't know that well. Otherwise, his life appears to be completely blank, almost as if he has been lobotomised. He goes go Spain, for instance, and has sex with someone called Enid. Salter writes: "The light in the Ritz made her beautiful. The sound of her high heals. There is no other, there will never be another." That, for Salter, is the existential pinnacle of a man's life: a man watching a beautiful woman he has just has sex with, while reflecting on her irreplaceability and/or the ephemerality of things in general. We are told, ad nauseum, that we always lose what he have and can never recapture our moments of splendour.
The sex writing itself is among the worst I have ever encountered and often flirts with incomprehensibility.
"They made love as if it were a violent crime, he holding her by the waist, half woman, half vase, adding weight to the act. She was crying in agony like a dog near death."
That is pretty bad, but it does make sense, just about. But what about this:
"Her buttocks were glorious, it was like being in a bakery, and when she cried out it was like a dying woman......."
A bakery? Why? Because it was hot? Because her buttocks resemble crusty rolls? Because the atmosphere is appetisingly fragrant? Note, again, the trite "dying" motif - a typical Salterian attempt at profundity.
"He gathered and went in slowly, sinking like a ship, a little cry escaping her, the cry of a hare.........."
Like a ship?! Sinking under the waves? Or "sinking" in a narrow port?
Finally, how about: "There was no sound but the float of traffic distant and below. There was not even that. The silence was everywhere and he came like a drinking horse......."
I don't even know how to begin commenting on this. First of all, the ambiguity: is his coming being likened to the coming of a drinking horse, or to the drinking of a (non-coming) horse? Neither really makes any sense. Horses, as far as I know, don't ejaculate when they drink and when they do drink, the act doesn't really have all that much in common with a male orgasm. But I am open to suggestions.......
Sex is, of course, notoriously difficult to write about (did the earth move for thee?) but to be frank, a lot of the writing in All That Is is just as bad and looks as if he had been lifted from a fourth-rate romance. Salter was 87 when he published this, so it is a very late work indeed. It is not impossible to write a fine novel at that age - there are a couple of precedents - but it is probably very difficult. My guess, and it is only a guess, is that the "novel" goes back a long way (some of the writing is quite good) and was patched together from unfinished stories, character sketches, bits of travel writing and possibly even incomplete novels. It is just too incoherent and too uneven.
The real problem, however, it not the sex or the prose (which is usually serviceable and sometimes excellent), but the fact that Salter has chosen to spread his narrative web over far too many individuals. The "story" unfolds in a sequence of loosely related scenes or vignettes and everything happens much too quickly and with too little development. The narrative point of view is preposterously unstable. We follow the main protagonist to a party - which is fair enough, as he is the main protagonist; then we follow someone he meets; then a fellow publisher; then the publisher's mother; then someone's daughter; then the protagonists mother; then a lover's husband.......and so on. Eventually, sixty pages later, we come back to the protagonist and find that he has aged ten years. Interesting at first, but it soon becomes very dull and irritating. People fall in love and you don't care. People die and you don't care. People divorce and you yawn. Some scenes are rendered with genuine skill and wit, but on the whole, they feel like a second-rate parody of Salter's best writing.
A simple comparison with Salter's other, earlier works couldn't be more unflattering. There, each and every word feels as as if it has been scrubbed and polished and then placed into position with a pair of tweezers. Sentence after sentence rings in your mind; individual words - perfectly plain and lifeless in other novels - reverberate with stunning power. Characters are sharply etched and the dialogue is flawless. Scene follows scene with impeccable logic. The control is astounding. If you want to read Salter, try Cassada. Or The Hunters. Or the stories in Last Night. But give this is a miss or at least wait until you can get it from the library for free......
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 12 August 2013
Chris Power quotes Elmore Leonard as saying 'if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it' What a pity the author of this book didn't follow his nostrum. Eliza Gregory, in a previous review, has done a much more accomplished (and witty) job than I could ever do in detailing the examples of lumpen writing in this book. To be fair the first chapter did grip me. And I was convinced i was in for a treat but after that I'm with Eliza Gregory all the way (although i am unwilling these days to persevere with any book I find really bad to the bitter end and didn't come any where finishing as opposed to getting finished with this book.) I should probably end here but I wonder if anyone else found both the main character and the author's attitude towards him creepy, offensive and disturbing? (I love books with a creepy anti-hero or heroine and have no problems with Humbert Humbert for instance - but this felt as though i was expected to admire the dull and self satisfied Philip Bowman. So I'm with the reviewer who put the book down and couldn't pick it up again. Wish I could have given this book a minus star because i am so fed up with great literary figures who are so in love with themselves and who write such pointless stuff.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 August 2013
James Salter has produced some good work but unfortunately this isn't a good representation of it.
The story charts the live and loves of the central character Phillip Bowman the period post WW2. He has a lot of dinners, attends various literary events, has a lot of sex [but can't find real lurrrvvveee] and that, really, is about it.
The awful sex scenes have already been nicely detailed by another reviewer I see, so won't dwell on that, but all in all quite frankly, this is just in places very badly written and well...boring. I know I am hard these days on literary novels- it seems as if when that genre tag is applied, everyone must bow down and accept bad fiction as 'Art' and critical facilities must be suspended- but too many literary establishment names are getting away with shoddy work these days, and unfortunately this book strays too often into that territory. No substance, no real comment on the world beyond the [in the end terminally boring] self-absorption of Bowman, and I fear another author trading on his name and past glories. If you are new to Salter try his earlier work, it's much more rewarding.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 August 2014
There are bits of sublime writing here. One scene of a character going gambling is completely engrossing. And there are a number of others in a similar vein. But however wonderfully written some scenes are, they often have no obvious relevance to the narrative.
If the author intends there to be a narrative, which I assume he does because it's (largely) a life story.
And as for the main character, I felt I never got to know him at all.
I accept that I'm no great fiction reader - fiction for me it the occasional change from my usual non-fiction diet of history, economics and science.
But I didn't think this was in the same class as, say, 'Stoner', and not a patch on 'Any Human Heart'.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 4 February 2014
This is the first book by James Salter that I have read: I was drawn to it by the superlative reviews from authors I enjoy such as John Irving and Julie Myerson. He has been compared to Bellow, Roth, Updike all of whom I have read and admired. I was also intrigued by the fact that it was written when Salter was 87, and has been praised by several reviewers for being so sexy. Sadly it did nothing for me - in particular the frequent sex scenes are sometimes laughably bad - look out for the bakeries/ horses drinking/ lots of death analogies. It is macho stuff, is he a big Hemingway fan?
I can see that Salter writes some fine and clever prose when he is describing events, times and places but it is all so very cold and unemotional. His main character Bowman seems to pass through life with no feelings, simply recording x, y and z, he has no encumbrances. There is no real plotline as the book keeps drifting off into minor characters who appear then disappear, never to be mentioned again. In the end I lost patience and gave up. Too lofty, literary and lonely for me.
First time with James Salter and... I enjoyed it until I didn't. Feels awkward critiquing such a great writer but, given I'm now reading his first book, The Hunters, I'm enjoying that much more.
All That Is has something of the shaggy dog about it: Salter is on the way somewhere, but its the caveats, the sidelines, that make up the bulk of the tale. Which is both the novel's strength and weakness: Salter's attention to the details of lives gone by is gorgeous, but all too often this work seems directionless. I've loved Martin Amis' prose, and his 'story as excuse for observations' is fine with me; but too often I got the feeling Salter lacked a driving plot for this. Sure, in context, the book's somewhat ethereal title makes sense: this is a book about life and... all that is. But, in order to engage and stay engaged, I needed some kind of (for want of a better word) reason to stick around.
I read somewhere that this work was written in bursts over a long period of time - the author writing bits, then leaving it for stretches... and, I fear, it shows. Likewise, I find the author's slavish rejection of semi-colons frustrating. I know it's a stylistic thing and, sometimes it works for Salter - but too many sentences are rendered confusing by what is effectively a lack of signposting.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
James Salter's latest book charts the life of Philip Bowman following the Second World War and onwards into a career in publishing. The underlying theme of the book is Bowman's search for love and to find happiness. Sounds familiar. But it isn't.
Those who have read Salter before will be familiar with his exquisitely tight writing style. Long drawn out descriptions to describe a scene are not Salter's style. Yet a few exquisitely chosen and succinct words are enough to produce a written picture of even the most complex of scenes. It is a real pleasure reading anything by Salter.
It's not just the scenes that benefit from this style of writing. All of the characters are furnished with but a brief back history yet by the end of the novel you feel that you know them intimately. The one flaw I could find within the book is that they often fall by the wayside and you are left wondering what happened to them - though I guess that is an element of the story itself. It is testament to Salter's fine writing that you warm to them.
Intimate is, I guess, the writing style that Salter intended. He returns to previous themes of sex, war and love, making the characters experience as personal as you can get in literature. Rarely have I read such evocative writing whether it is in a sex scene or just in the setting of a scene.
The journey travelled by Bowman takes him through the decades following the Second World War and the social change that is happening around him. This is all expertly described.
Salter is not the most prolific of authors but this is an ideal introduction to his writing. Once you have been enchanted by this novel check out A Sport and a Pastime. For something completely different, try The Hunters.
Overall one of the best books I have read this year.