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Tragicomic bromance takes out Australia’s only humour writing prize

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Steve Toltz’s dark comedy chronicling the misadventure of two best mates has won Australia’s only humour writing prize, the State Library of NSW announced tonight.

Los Angeles‐based writer Steve Toltz won the $10,000 biennial Russell Prize for Humour Writing for Quicksand (Penguin Random House Australia), selected from a diverse field of 48 entries.

Quicksand follows on from Toltz’s Booker‐shortlisted debut novel, A Fraction of the Whole. The story — narrated by Liam, an aspiring writer‐turned‐policeman — chronicles the life of his friend Aldo Benjamin, an eternally optimistic ‘born loser’. As Aldo’s life disintegrates around him, his decline assuming mythic proportions, Liam’s quest for meaning assumes existential profundity and comic exhilaration.

The judges – Patti Miller, Lex Marinos and Sami Shah – praised Quicksand for the “beauty of its writing, the complexity of its insights and its sharp, intelligent, wise humour.”

“Frequently tears of laughter are pursued by pangs of grief,” the judges reported. “Toltz switches styles with virtuosity as he scales comedic peaks and plumbs despairing troughs, always taking the reader with him. It is a wonderful achievement from a writer whose words serve as a scalpel to reveal the absurd beneath the veneer of serious existence.”

Download full media release (PDF 158KB)

This award is made possible through the State Library of NSW Foundation and the generosity of the late Peter Wentworth Russell.