Fresh Talent: Quicksand by Steve Toltz

Fresh Talent: Quicksand by Steve Toltz

Quicksand – Steve Toltz

Aldo Benjamin may be the unluckiest soul in human history, but that isn’t going to stop his friend Liam writing about him.

For what more could an aspiring novelist want from his muse than a thousand get-rich-quick schemes, a life-long love affair, an eloquently named brothel, the most sexually confusing evening imaginable and a brief conversation with God?

Read if you loved: Howard Jacobson

Steve Toltz Biography

Steve Toltz was born in Sydney, Australia.

A Fraction of the Whole, his first novel, was released in 2008 to widespread critical acclaim.

It was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize and the 2008 Guardian First Book Award. He currently lives in New York.


Steve Toltz on the Inspiration Behind Quicksand

The original version of my first novel, A Fraction of the Whole, was over a thousand pages long – after several rejections, I decided to edit it down. In doing so, there was one character I cut out entirely, a bad-lucked character who, when it came down to it, seemed like he belonged in a different novel. When I started writing Quicksand I elaborated somewhat on his bad luck, and gave him an experience I knew a little about.

Halfway through writing A Fraction of the Whole, I was walking down a street in Paris (where I lived at the time) and had a spontaneous cervical spinal hemorrhage that left me paralyzed. The following few months were spent in a Paris hospital and then in the spinal ward of a hospital in Sydney. It was a fairly traumatic time in which I faced an uncertain future. I was told by the doctors it was unlikely I’d walk again, or that they don’t know if I would walk again, or that I wouldn’t walk again. So I learned wheelchair skills. I spent many days and nights with patients with spinal injuries. My girlfriend found us a wheelchair accessible house. Meanwhile I wiggled a toe. I got up on the bars. I got out of the chair. I learned to walk again.

About a month later, I needed money so I went back to one of my old jobs, which was working as a television extra. And the first gig that I got cast for was on a TV show called All Saints, a hospital drama. They cast me as a patient! One month out of hospital and I had to put on a hospital gown again, and lie in bed for a four day shoot. It was during those four weird days I came up with the first line I wrote for the book. It is when Aldo wakes up in hospital. The nurse asks: Do you know where you are? And Aldo answers: On the set of a hospital drama?

That’s why I knew Aldo would be paralysed, but the writing is such a process of discovery and evolution, and it took three years to grow the Aldo of the book. I also made him afraid to be alone, and so he surrounds himself with friends. And then I gave him particular fears–of sickness, and of imprisonment–and who realizes that he needs money, in order to avoid his fears as much as possible, and to get into better situations–which turn him into a pathological entrepreneur.

Hospitalization gave me insights into the stubbornness of personality, suffering, the absurdity of endurance, and exhaustion, all themes present in Quicksand. The book is also about fears, and the realization of those fears, and suffering and what one does to avoid it, and how much time one spends contemplating it and living in fear.