Every Boy Should Have a Man by Preston L Allen

Every Boy Should Have a Man Source: Library

Five words from the blurb: man, pet, bond, wild, dystopian

Every Boy Should Have a Man is a strange fable set at a time when the Earth is suffering from climate change. ‘Man’ is in danger of extinction – partly from lack of habitat, but also because giant ‘Oafs’ are keeping them as pets and eating them.

The book begins with a poor oaf child discovering a female man in a bramble patch. He takes her home to play with and discovers that she is a rare, valuable, talking man. The pair form a close bond, but their happiness is broken when she becomes pregnant:

If she were not pregnant, I would sell her as meat and pay for this expensive house I am building. And when the litter is born, can I sell it to make back some of my money? No. Instead I must surrender the litter to the wealthy! I could save a lot of money by just allowing them to remove her thumbs. I would surely be better off if I lived as a pet. The government protects pets! What about protecting people?

This is a very strange book, but its messages on climate change, slavery and animal ownership are delivered in an effective way. It shouldn’t make any difference, but seeing what life would be like if humans were kept as pets raised some difficult questions. The arguments were extremely powerful and some people might find them too disturbing, but I loved the way it made me stop and think about our treatment of animals.

Every Boy Should Have a Man is a short book. Part of me wants to criticise the fact that it skipped over elements I’d have liked to investigate in more depth, but another was impressed by the amount of subjects covered in such a short time. This probably means it struck exactly the right balance between the two!

The book successfully combined a variety of different myths; giving a modern twist to some old stories and creating new ones which were equally engaging. I loved the fact I had no idea what would happen next and would enjoy talking about some of the issues raised. It would make a fantastic book club choice, but I’d recommend it to anyone looking for something a bit different.


Books in Translation Other Prizes

Death of an Ancient King by Laurent Gaudé

Death of an Ancient King Translated from the French by Adriana Hunter

Winner of the Prix Goncourt des Lyceéns 2002 and the Prix des Libraires 2003

Five words from the blurb: King, old, wedding, conflict, honour

I recently had a wonderful Twitter conversation with @thetoietlis about French fiction. She recommended many books, but Death of an Ancient King caught my eye as she said it was too dark for her. I bought a copy knowing it would also be perfect for Paris in July – a month long celebration of French literature and culture organised by BookBath and Thyme for Tea.

Death of an Ancient King has a fable-like quality and can be seen as warning against the futility of war. It begins with King Tsongor preparing a lavish wedding for his daughter, but on the eve of the big day a former suitor appears, claiming that she is promised to him. The King is unable to resolve the situation and a war breaks out between the two potential husbands. 

The entire book was quick and easy to read. It flowed beautifully and gave no indication that it was in translation.  Unlike @thetoietlis I didn’t find it too dark. There were descriptions of battle, but the scenes were described in a detached way, so I was never disturbed.

The days and months passed to the rhythm of warriors advancing and retreating. Positions were taken, then lost, then taken again. Thousands of footsteps carved out pathways of suffering in the dust of the plain. They advanced. They retreated. They died. The bodies dried in the sun, were reduced to skeletons. Then the bones, bleached by time, crumbled, and more warriors came to die in these heaps of man-dust.

I loved the first 80 pages, but after that scenes of war took over and I became less interested. If these had been reduced by about 75% the book would have had far more impact. 

King Tsongor was a fantastic character and I found his story the most interesting. I wish that we’d learnt more about his past and the story surrounding his footman had been given more prominence. 

Overall this was a compelling story with a good moral heart, but there was too much fighting for me. 


Laurent Gaudé is an interesting author and I’m keen to try more of his novels. Have you read any of them?