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All That Is by James Salter. Much ado about nothing

July 2, 2016 22 comments

All That Is by James Salter (2013) French title: Et rien d’autre. Translated by Marc Amfreville

This blog is my reading journal and I’m committed to write about the books I loved but also the ones I abandoned. So, here’s another negative billet that I’ll keep short because I have a backlog of billets about books I actually loved. And my blogging time is limited…

I had some expectations about All That Is by James Salter, given the fuss around this book. I guess that from a literary point of view, the title is really apt.

To be honest, the blurb is appealing. We’re at the end of WWII and Philip Bowman, a young man has come back from the war in the Pacific. He goes to Harvard and ends up working for a publisher in New York. The novel is about his life. Simple enough. The blurb of the French edition says:

This beautiful novel is like a testimony of a generation of writers, last witnesses, without their knowing, of a world promised to disappear. Because art is the only place where opposites live side by side without destroying each other, it ties in a single gesture the lust for life of youth and the melancholy of maturity, frantic eroticism and need of sooth, the quest for fame and the acute awareness of its insignificance.

Salter_rien_d'autreSounds good, no? How disappointed I was. I found Bowman’s story lacking of depth. The novel sits on the middle of a bridge between the shore of State of the Nation literature and State of the Self literature. I waited for an analysis of the American society of that time. I waited for a description of Bowman’s thoughts and feelings. I tried until page 129 out of 364. The novel feels scattered. Each time I start to get attached to a character, the focus shifts on someone else and I think, “Hey, I want to know what happens next!” There’s no description of the publishing world beyond brushes that left me thirsty for more. During these 129 pages, I was waiting for substance and depth: get into the mind of the character or write us a fresco of New York in the 50s. It wasn’t coming.

Then I stumbled upon Lisa’s review of All That Is on Goodreads and discovered that she hated it for the same reasons I couldn’t engage with it. Her review is worth reading. So I saved myself a few hours of reading and abandoned it. So, thanks, Lisa.

To me That Is All.

PS: That cover! *exasperated eye-roll*

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