Book Review

By Adam Norris

Angus Mooney is having a rough start to the afterlife. 

 First, he’s a little frustrated that there’s an afterlife in the first place – there’s nothing quite like waking up in the Great Beyond to throw your earthly principles of spiritual cynicism into a tailspin. Secondly, there’s the fact he’s just been forever separated from his pregnant wife, Gracie. Third, he was murdered – bummer.

Nor is the afterlife all marble gates and divine light. In fact, it’s more like a feudal shantytown and Wollongong had a baby. You still have to work a shitty job, social services are stretched to breaking point thanks to an alarmingly fatal pandemic back on earth, and other than knowing that you’re dead, there’s no other clue to what this whole afterlife deal is about. Heaven – if that’s what this is – turns out to look a lot like the collapse of the Soviet Union, but with McDonalds.

Steve Toltz was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for his first novel, A Fraction of the Whole, which is one of those books I’m forever gifting people when I spy it in secondhand stores.

Here Goes Nothing – his third – is perhaps not quite as ambitious despite the inbuilt questions of mortality and morality, but is laced with such an assured mix of black humour and world building that it’s hard not to be charmed. Indeed, I read it all in one sitting, and was pleasantly moved by the ending – no mean feat, having established such a metaphysical premise. Toltz’s writing is strong, though my dominant gripe is voice; his characters are memorable and well-drawn, though they do tend to sound like they share the same mouthpiece.

Toltz has described his oeuvre as a trilogy of fear; fear of death, fear of suffering (second novel, Quicksand) and now, the fear of the opinions of others. As thematic fears go, that actually seems a somewhat anticlimactic note to end on, and while you trust that the author generally knows best I can’t say that it’s a motif that really resonates here. The fear of love may be a more fitting epitaph; the terror of protecting those you hold dear when the world is collapsing, the fear of submersion into another person’s future; the fear of losing someone.

It’s a moving novel, and funny – particularly those whose humour tends towards the sardonic. I’ll be adding it to my gifting list.