Quicksand by Steve Toltz

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Quicksand Source: Free review copy received from publisher

Five words from the blurb: friendship, failure, misfortune, writer, society

Quicksand is the story of two men: Liam is a failed writer who decides to become a policeman; and Aldo is a failed entrepreneur, who is continually asking Liam to bail him out of difficult situations. The book concentrates on the dynamics of their relationship, using them to show how society reacts to failure and suffering.

The book started brilliantly. The first chapter is probably one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. It was intelligent and insightful, creating exactly the sort of dry humor that I love:

Shamefully, doctors neglect to tell new parents that an increasingly common postnatal complication is that a small percentage of babies will grow into anthropologists in their own homes, as if they’d been conceived in order to study and then record the dreadful failings of their mother and father, who’ve no idea they’ve invited this cold-hearted observer into their lives. All these parents wanted was to produce cuter versions of themselves, poor bastards; instead they’re saddled with an unsympathetic informer who won’t hesitate to report them to the lowest authority – the general public. In other words, it is as the poet Czestaw Mitosz once said: When a writer is born into a family, that family is doomed! (Exclamation mark mine.)

I wanted to highlight almost everything and at one point was beginning to think that too many punchlines were crammed onto each page. I worried that I’d get face-ache from laughing too much.

Unfortunately that didn’t happen. The jokes began to thin out and without their lightness I found the book far less interesting. The writing was outstanding throughout, but I wasn’t interested in the macho aspects of this book. The casual way the protagonists talked about prostitutes, and their general attitude towards women annoyed me. It was realistic, but I’ve read similar things many times before and longed for the fresh wisdom of the opening sections to return. 

I’m sure that this book will be loved by many (men) and it will probably be longlisted for the Booker Prize. I just wished that Toltz had made the entire book as good as the first few chapters. 

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3 Comments

  1. I often have this issue with comic novels! It seems desperately tricky to sustain a funny book — I’ve read maybe one or two that have been funny throughout. More often my experience is like yours with this book, where I find myself pining for the first few chapters.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, I’m not sure I’ve read any book that is funny all the way through. Quite a lot have amusing sections, but I’ve not found a comic novel that really clicks with me yet. Fingers crossed one will turn up soon!

  2. Brona says:

    Most of the reviews here in Australia reference the unevenness in Toltz’ second book too, which is such a shame, as I thoroughly enjoyed his first one.

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