Van has finished reading…Quicksand by Steve Toltz

2 Feb

My first thought on finishing Steve Toltz’s Quicksand is that I’m glad I don’t know Steve Toltz (I know, authors are not their books – but this did all come out of his head). There’s a level of menace going on here that is simply uncomfortable. As with A Fraction Of The Whole, there’s a good deal of comedy but even in that comedy there lurks the heft of violence, the fact that there is always a butt to the joke and he will make you see it, make you stare at it. Maybe that’s why the discomfort is there: I’m laughing even though I know I’m laughing at a misfortune. The image that stays with me is of an extended family standing silent in a semi-circle on a neighbour’s lawn, all taking a single pace forwards every few minutes when no-one is looking. You see, as I write it down it just looks creepy and disturbing, but I laughed. Out loud.

I’m reminded of Tibor Fischer’s Good To Be God in a broad sense. Both books deal with a tale of perennial poor luck, and both stack a sort of street-fighting humour against it (Fischer’s Dangerous Dave lives long in the memory). Toltz definitely stacks the chips higher. In Aldo Benjamin he gives us a protagonist who, had he ever been near a ringer would have been put through it literally. Though his friend Liam (a ‘failed’ writer turned cop – the result of book research that seems to have stuck) narrates, Aldo is the star turn. We meet him in a bar at eleven in the morning, railing against though accepting, indeed expectant of the indignity of having to be carried down stairs to the toilet by his oldest friend (and biographer), Liam. Aldo brims with ideas, all of them so niche they couldn’t possibly fly. He diagnoses people’s psychological ills with a glance. He brims with words. He is insufferable. Yet there’s something magnetic about him as a character. Is it car-crash fiction, hanging on to see just how far it will go? Knowing Aldo’s twin fears are hospital and prison you can imagine how long that road is. I will admit there were times I almost shouted Get To The Point at him, so verbose is he, though to take that wordiness away, or perhaps even to curb it would I feel change the dynamic between character and reader. It’s almost as though in testing his own limits he’s also testing ours, and then laughing at us for sticking around.

Steve Toltz’s Quicksand is by no means an easy read. I actually felt tired after finishing it, it’s so relentless. That’s not to say it’s not enjoyable though. I suspect it may be something of a marmite experience – no subject scares him, no taboo tempers the voice – but for my part there’s enough truth hidden in the grime and the humour to keep the pages turning. And I don’t know quite what it is I feel at the end with Liam, hope, horror or heartsick inevitability, but I do feel and that counts for a great deal.

Quicksand is published in paperback on 10th March 2016 by Sceptre ISBN: 9781473606050


You can find a fan site dedicated to pressuring Steve Toltz to join Twitter @SteveToltz, and you can find Aldo Benjamin on Twitter @SteveToltz1…

With thanks to Ruby at Sceptre for allowing me to review this book.


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