Books

Steve Toltz new novel ‘Here Goes Nothing’ is a wildly original take on life after death.

One of the best takes on the afterlife since Dante’s Divine Comedy, Steve Toltz’s Here Goes Nothing is a darkly humorous and brilliant tale of love and mortality. 

Toltz knows how to start a story. From the outset, the first chapter has a distinct ‘edge of my seat’ kind of feel. It unexpectedly messes with you, and you find yourself asking, where is this story going…. is it a thriller? I thought it was a comedy, what have I gotten myself into?

Combining a moving amount of sentimentality with a slight borderline contempt for his fellow man – which let’s be honest – is a combination that is all too familiar in the human experience, although we don’t usually like to admit it, Toltz’s Here Goes Nothing makes for a candid, fun, and deeply enthralling read. 

Steve Toltz
Credit: Penguin

Blending his personal brand of wry humor, with a healthy dose of skepticism, and philosophy, Toltz jumps straight into things by throwing Angus Mooney into the afterlife. And what an afterlife it is. 

In a story that retraces its steps, beautifully pacing between the past and the present, we follow Angus and Gracie, who before Angus died, were a happily married couple and eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child.  Short on money, after the IVF treatments bled them dry, they reluctantly take in a stranger that comes knocking at their door who confesses to be dying and in need of care, and very willing to leave them everything he has if they take him in. 

The characters are perfectly balanced, between Angus Moody’s ill-fated bitter skepticism and Gracie’s quirky optimism, not only is she a force to be reckoned with, but a warrior of a woman to boot, albeit obsessed with social media. And let’s not forget Owen, the dying, balding, sneaky 60-ish-year-old that is creepily obsessed with Gracie.

Steve Toltz
Credit: Penguin

Toltz’s version of the afterlife is kind of like a sad, depressing, purgatory. He does expressively say that it isn’t purgatory,  or rather Moodey gets to the crux of the matter by asking a cannonball load of questions pertaining to where exactly he is, but if there is such a place, I get the feeling it would probably be a lot like what Toltz describes. 

In Toltz’s afterlife, even though you are physically better off, cancers are cured, and limbs returned, you still have to wait in the mire of queues, and bureaucratic lines, that one would have hoped you’d left behind on Earth. And work, well that’s still a thing too. And in Moody’s case, given he was a petty crook in his old life, takes on a job at an umbrella factory. This raises more questions than it answers, does it rain in the afterlife? 

Mooney’s rocket speed questioning when he arrives in the afterlife is brilliant and poignant. Is this a simulacrum? Am I going to be meeting GOD? Where have my beard and tattoos gone? Am I still a human or am I just in human form? Where are all the extinct animals, the Sabertooth tigers, the Mammoths? Are we in the Matrix? Is this a dream? Does he get any answers? Not really, but it starts the conversation, and that’s what counts. 

Missing Gracie more than he ever thought possible, Mooney takes to the back streets of the afterlife, to a black market illegal border crossing flotation tank, a drug and intent-driven device that gets your spirit back to the earthly realm. This brings with it its own set of problems, because just like in life, nothing is free, and everything comes at a cost. But love is clearly worth it. And Mooney loves Gracie above all else. 

With plenty of perfectly executed one-liners and witty off-the-cuff remarks, this book is a true delight. 

Steve Toltz Here Goes Nothing is out now via all good booksellers, you can also catch him live via zoom at this month’s upcoming Sydney Writers Festival.