Here Goes Nothing by Steve Toltz – fabulously funny visions of an afterlife

A man haunts his previous existence in this laser-sharp novel that raises heady existential questions

What if the afterlife is no glamorous inferno, celestial paradise or reincarnation lottery but a bureaucratic nightmare, overfull and under-resourced, where you remember your death but have a second one to look forward to after a fresh round of ageing and disease? Worst of all, what if you had to get a job there – manufacturing umbrellas, say – in order to pay for basic goods and drink away your woes as it dawns on you that nobody in this realm knows what’s going on?

Steve Toltz’s fabulously impressive third novel, following the 2008 Booker-shortlisted A Fraction of the Whole and 2015’s Quicksand, cannonballs straight into heady existential questions, magicking up a vision of human life at once generous and absurd while wearing its considerable ambition lightly. Very lightly. A few pages in, realising that the story is told in a compulsively jokey, determined-to-impress voice with even the dialogue consisting entirely of well-timed one-liners and off-the-cuff aphorisms, I groaned: “Oh Christ – 400 pages.” But a headstrong novelist sets the parameters of their own realism, and soon the style clicked. Once it did, I struggled to keep track of how much there was to admire in Toltz’s relentlessly lively sentences, offbeat insights and unfaltering narrative energy.

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