I don’t read much satire. I like humorous books, but usually tend to gravitate to those written in first person by someone who’s self-deprecating or where the narrative voice is snarky or sarcastic. Here Goes Nothing by Steve Tolz was a different kind of read for me. If pressed I’d describe the humour as ‘arch’ rather than funny, though note others have found it hilarious.
In fact… I’m not sure I enjoyed it. (As such.) But I must concede it’s good nonetheless. (And yes, I do think it’s possible to know/think a book is good without liking it.) It’s exceedingly clever and confronting. In terms of social commentary it reminded me of some of my recent reads by Inga Simpson, Sarah Foster and Mitch Albom.Here Goes Nothing
by Steve Toltz
Published by Hamish Hamilton
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: General Fiction, Humour
Angus Mooney is in a dark place: the afterlife. His days are spent in aching embarrassment; god, religion, the supernatural – he was wrong about everything. He longs for his audacious, fiery wife, Gracie, but can only watch from the other side as she is seduced by his killer, who has stepped seamlessly into Mooney’s shoes.
Meanwhile, life after death isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Another pandemic is sweeping the globe; Mooney’s new home is filling up fast, resources are scarce, infrastructure is crumbling, and he has to share an increasingly cramped existence with a group of people still traumatised by their own deaths. And although he should know better, he remains in the grip of the same fear as when he was alive: the opinions of others.
Although this is ostensibly about Mooney’s experience of life-after-death, we spend quite a bit of time in the land of the living. We get a snapshot of Mooney’s early life, spend some time with Mooney, Gracie and his murderer (Owen) and then we flip back and forth in…. um… dimensions, or worlds. Mooney’s story is told in first person and Gracie’s in third person so there’s no confusion and even though we do jump about in time a little early on, it’s clear that Mooney’s filling us in on events before his death.
Mooney’s not particularly likeable. He’s grown up in the foster care system and mostly disenfranchised with life until he falls in love with unconventional marriage celebrant (who tells it like it is) Gracie. But for someone who claims to be uneducated and ignorant, Mooney’s a thinker… becoming even more ponderous and philosophical after his death.
And I remembered how, when I was alive, I always wanted to die ‘in my sleep’: that made me feel ashamed now. How ludicrous to want to die without noticing it while never realising that you had lived without noticing it too. p 333
There’s some commentary about God and religion but it’s really only part of the underlying what comes next theme. Mooney’s devastated to learn that his ‘afterlife’ is really just more of the same. Like life #2 but with having to start afresh and in a worse place.
I had put all my eggs in the basket of bodily death and personality extinction, because faith was so human, and humans so defined by self-deception, and the human mind programmed only for survival and not for truth, and I had always been certain that the fine tuning of our solar system producing life on earth had been a total fluke, so it was shocking to now discover, so late in the day, that my soul existed and even had enough value not to have been tossed in some cosmic shredder. p 76
I described the humour here as arch. In some ways it felt too clever for me. I felt like I understood the messages but – whether delivered by Mooney or his co-workers in the afterlife or Owen – they felt a little repetitive and almost overwhelming. Having said that I marked paragraph after paragraph because I found them incredibly profound and beautifully written or propositioned.
In the background there’s a new pandemic is sweeping the world – one with a 89% fatality rate. On earth we’re reminded how quickly the inconceivable becomes the new normal. One minute the Good Dog (K9) Disease is far from their shores and Gracie’s feeling safe and the next she’s scouring neighbours’ houses for food, steering clear of their rotting corpses. And in the afterlife, they’re running out of space. Building camps for the diseased and then putting up barbed wire to stop the new arrivals from trying to get into towns. It’s confronting when you ponder ‘our’ own responses to Covid.
There’s a lot of consideration to ‘over-living’ both during life as well as after. Mooney, I think realises our propensity to repeat the mistakes of our past. Toltz has added in some details, such as workplace requirements in the afterlife to complete evaluations. Evaluations comprising confronting questions about their / our behaviour while living… surely with the intent of us developing more self-awareness. But to what end? Is Mooney’s afterlife a precursor or stop-over enroute to something else (a la Netflix’s The Good Place?)
This would be an excellent bookclub read as there’s A LOT of fodder for discussion. I’ll also be intrigued to see what others think – will they love it or hate it or (like me) grudgingly respect it.
Here Goes Nothing by Steve Tolz was published in Australia by Penguin Random House and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.