Steve Toltz

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Steve Toltz

Steve Toltz follows his Booker-shortlisted A Fraction of the Whole with a novel that’s just as edgy, hilarious and compelling: Quicksand, at once unmistakeably Toltzean and unlike anything that’s come before.

‘Why should I let you write about me?’ ‘Because you’ll inspire people. To count their blessings.’ Aldo has been so relentlessly unlucky - in business, in love, in life - that the universe seems to have taken against him personally. Even Liam, his best friend, describes him as ‘a well-known parasite and failure’. Aldo has always faced the future with optimism and despair in equal measure, but this last twist of fate may finally have brought him undone. There’s hope, but not for Aldo. Liam hasn’t been doing much better himself: a failed writer with a rocky marriage and a dangerous job he never wanted. But something good may come out of Aldo’s lowest point. Liam may finally have found his inspiration. Together, maybe they can turn bad luck into an artform.

What begins as a document of Aldo’s disasters develops into a profound story of love lost, found and betrayed; of freedom and incarceration; of suffering and transcendence; of fate, faith and friendship; of taking risks - in art, work, love and life - and finding inspiration in all the wrong places. Quicksand is a fearlessly funny, outrageously inventive dark comedy that looks contemporary life unblinkingly in the eye. It confirms Steve Toltz as one of our most original and insightful novelists.


It’s been several years since Steve Toltz published his sprawling debut, A Fraction of the Whole, and readers awaiting another dosage of fierce iconoclasm and dark-peppered wit will not be disappointed. With every bit of rambling dialogue and hilarious anecdote, Quicksand resembles Toltz’s previous epic because the stories quickly amount to a catalogue of catastrophes. Our two remarkably unlucky, down-and-out protagonists are both failures whose lives are entangled through lifelong friendship and dependence.

Liam Wilder, unsuccessful writer-come-policeman has been bailing his friend Aldo Benjamin out of scrapes for years. A disastrous entrepreneur, Aldo has been impoverishing friends, family and investors his entire life, collecting an array of specialists around him to combat his latest medical, legal, criminal, emotional or financial disaster. Liam realises that he is just one part of this human arsenal and it’s not until Aldo is a convicted criminal, crippled and suicidal that he sees his chance: he will write an epic tale of woe about his friend, thus releasing his own creative paralysis. From this perspective Liam narrates the years of hilarious misfortune and ruminates constantly on a book written by their secondary-school art teacher, Mr Morrell.

A cantankerous and eccentric man, Morrell wrote a treatise on art called Artist Within, Artist Without and Liam quotes it ostensibly. Wonder about art and creation simmers throughout the three-part book, making events tragic and comic, but things only become clearer near the end when Liam returns to narrate. Aldo tells the second part of the book at pace, but he is someone who never shuts up, and even though his turn of phrase ignites each page, it can often be a slog to get to the punch. Regardless, Toltz has given us something brilliant to marvel at again.

Luke May is a freelance reviewer.

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