Today I’m thrilled to be on the blog tour for Quicksand by Steve Toltz!
Wildly funny and unceasingly surprising, Quicksand is both a satirical masterpiece and an unforgettable story of fate, family and friendship.
Aldo Benjamin may be the unluckiest soul in human history, but that isn’t going to stop his friend Liam writing about him. For what more could an aspiring novelist want from his muse than a thousand get-rich-quick schemes, a life-long love affair, an eloquently named brothel, the most sexually confusing evening imaginable and a brief conversation with God?
Quicksand is quite the meta-novel. It’s about Liam, a failed writer turned police officer who decides to write a book about his best friend, Aldo. The novel flits from being from Liam’s point of view, to being from Aldo’s viewpoint as written by Liam, to what appears to be Aldo from his own point of view but the reader can never be sure if it is genuinely Aldo or whether it’s more of Aldo seen through Liam’s eyes. It’s never clear what is real and what is imagined, and it becomes increasingly blurred for the reader. The fact that we don’t know the real Aldo, only the one Liam tells us about, makes it all the more interesting because although the book is about Aldo, we learn so much about Liam and the cracks in their friendship. The first chapter of this novel is entitled ‘Two Friends, Two Agendas (one hidden)’ and that sums up the novel. It pays to remember this title as you progress through the book to the end as it gives much to ponder over regarding what Liam’s purpose was in writing this book about his friend, but also why Aldo wanted the book written – assuming he really knew about it, and also assuming that Liam hadn’t just made Aldo up to deflect his own anxieties and failures in life.
The opening chapter contains a whole section of Aldo spewing out one-liners that Liam is frantically trying to write down. I found it quite amusing and wondered whether Steve Toltz himself was making a point about great novels and how a one-liner can often be at the expense of plot and structure. I actually loved that it felt like an aside to camera, as if Toltz had briefly placed himself inside his own novel.
Some of the observations and ideas that Aldo has are truly hilarious, I honestly found myself laughing at times whilst reading about his ideas for businesses and reflections on life. His self-diagnosis of ‘clinical frustration’ is so brilliant as is his pondering over why clinical depression gets to be a disease but clinical frustration doesn’t. It’s amusing to read given what we know about Aldo but I couldn’t help thinking at the same time that there is a serious point in there about how people become so tied up in their frustrations about their life that it affects their ability to function.
I love the parts of the book that became self-referential particularly Aldo’s obsession with Mimi’s book The Fussy Corpse and how it has echoes of how Aldo’s own life would become. Some of the situations he got himself into were really quite mortifying but then his having to be carried whilst often shouting or demanding he be put down somewhere became quite cringe-worthy and led him to almost become the fussy corpse himself. Aldo’s increasingly frequent ideas about death and his requests for help mirror the little boy in the book too.
I didn’t know too much about this book before I started reading but I was expecting a darkly comedic novel, which this is, but what I didn’t expect was how much of an impact this book would have on me. There are aspects to this novel that are similar to my own life (I would imagine everyone who reads this book will recognise something of their own life in some of the observations Liam and Aldo make) and I have to admit that I found some of it quite difficult to read for this reason but I still couldn’t stop reading. It’s so utterly refreshing to read a book that is at times absurd, bordering on the ridiculous; it’s laugh out loud funny, and yet so utterly true to life at the same time!
On a personal note for me, having recently been told that my paralysis is permanent a couple of paragraphs really stood out to me and actually gave me a wry smile about my situation. It’s remarkable writing when you can feel the depths a character’s despair at his situation and recognise something of yourself in it, but still see the humour and laugh!
Aldo ‘caught phrases from the doctors such as ‘incomplete paraplegia’ and ‘crushed T5 and 6’ and ‘the absence of motor and sensory function’… while my own thoughts were actual… The blind get great hearing, the deaf a super sense of smell. What do the paralysed get again? And, does paraplegia every just, you know, blow over?’
‘Everybody weighed in. Everyone looks on the bright side for you. They’re really positive about your situation. Nobody feels under qualified to offer medical advice. The preposterous suggestions they’re not ashamed to make! Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, to torture someone with an incurable illness or a permanent disability is easy. Name the most ludicrous, disreputable remedy imaginable – eg. bamboo under the fingernail therapy – and swear it fixed a friend of yours. The dying or disabled patient, sick in heart and soul with desperate feeling that he hasn’t tried everything to restore himself, will quick smart reach for the bamboo. They will also tell you about exceptional individuals who did exceptional things even with exceptional limitations. This is in no way relevant to my case’.
There is so much sadness and loss throughout this novel, but so much humour too. I’d expected this book would be very surreal, and it is at times, but actually it’s a very honest exploration of friendship, and of life in general. This is such a unique novel; it was one of those reading experiences where I didn’t want to put the book down for a second because it was so good, but then I didn’t want to get to the end too soon for the same reason! It’s an incredible book.
This is the first novel I’ve read by Steve Toltz but I loved it so much that I’m definitely going to buy his previous novel, A Fraction of the Whole, and I can’t wait to read it.
I rated this book 4.5 out of 5 and highly recommend it!
Quicksand is out now.
I received a copy of this book from Sceptre in exchange for an honest review.
My review is part of the Quicksand blog tour, please visit the other stops on the tour.