Simon Edge’s novel “The Hurtle of Hell” feels like the sort of thing that Douglas Adams might have enjoyed. Not so much the story of Stefano Cartwright, a young gay man who encounters a God he doesn’t believe in after a near-death experience on a beach, but more in Edge’s description of that God – a bumbling, accident-prone figure who becomes fascinated by this particular “green-eyed hominid”. It creates an unusual, endearingly strange narrative, and Edge’s bold choice to focus not only on the events of Earth but also the events of the heavens adds an innovative new angle to what could otherwise be a rather familiar story.
Any novelist who chooses to write about God has a challenge on their hands – what sort of voice does God speak with, and where is he, and how does he relate to the world’s sacred texts, among other things – and Simon Edge manages to handle the logistics of this well. This is not the Christian God as he’s been generally known – omnipotent, omniscient, all-powerful – instead this is a God who’s burbling about the universe by himself, peering at things through a seeing tube, occasionally pausing to look at the odd dying star. The one compromise to God’s divine status is that, in contrast to the other characters in Edge’s story, he has a more elevated lexis, making him sound a little like a posh old anthropologist:
“The possessions he did have were either bits of cosmic jetsam to which he had taken a fancy over the aeons, or remnants of the mysterious, forgotten time before the present universe had got up and spinning, when objects had existed according to very different rules.”
It actually makes God rather endearing, which incidentally is another problem that Edge resolves seemingly effortlessly – that is, how does one make an all-powerful being sympathetic – and these were certainly the sections that I most looked forward to in the novel, not least because of their sheer strangeness. I particularly enjoyed the moment where God gets his seeing-tube stuck in a window, a moment of practical comedy that felt nicely grounded and relatable.
The human characters are nicely fleshed out too – Stefano (born Stephen) and his partner Adam both get narratives of their own, focussing on the aftermath of Stefano’s accident. Stefano’s backstory is strong, and although Edge’s detailed focus upon this does slightly stall the novel’s forward momentum it is all worth it when Stefano finally acts. His neuroses revolve around hell, and the prospect of grim, eternal torment for his sexual orientation; by the time Stefano winds up in a tremendously uncomfortable church, listening to a preacher shout about “people who are sensual… people who are unclean… people who are so bad they are perverted”, you’ll feel for him.
Full disclosure at this point: for a long time, as a teenager, I went to a church very much like this. Many of the people in that church would have been horrified to know I was reading “The Hurtle of Hell”, assuming that it might lead me astray. In fact, my experience there made me profoundly more sympathetic towards Stefano – Edge sketches out Stefano’s inner spiritual torment with enormous compassion and skill, and I felt acutely the pain that he must experience in this kind of setting. It’s unlikely that Edge’s book will change many views on this (in short, he takes a Theist line, arguing that God set the universe in motion and then stepped back to let humanity work it out), but it’s emotive and an important voice to add to the ongoing conversation about LGBT+ people and the church.
Ultimately, “The Hurtle of Hell” is an uplifting read. It’s at its most witty when focussed on God – whether that’s his predilection for dry sherry or his fascination with televised football – but the anchoring narrative of Stefano and Adam at its heart gives it a real emotional force too. Edge doesn’t shy away from describing Stefano’s pain nor his flaws, but the people around him feel encouraging and supportive (particularly Rook, his mentor when he arrives as a young runaway in London) and the experience of reading is a hopeful one. It’s a novel that’s to be applauded for tackling a difficult topic in a subtle and unusual way, and you certainly won’t read another novel like it this year.
The Hurtle of Hell was published by Eye/Lightning Books. You can buy it on Kindle for £3.99 or in paperback for £7.30, from Amazon. Alternatively, buy it direct from Eye/Lightning Books here – it’s £1.50 more expensive, but I assume that means more profit for the publishers.
Eye/Lightning Books are on Twitter here, publishing both fiction and non-fiction. Their back catalogue is really fascinating, with some great titles, and worth a look.
Thanks to Eye/Lightning Books for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes
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