Published: Lightning Books (July 2018)
An atheist comedy featuring God and a confused young man from Hackney
‘A clever and enchanting fable’ The Lady
SEMI-FINALIST: Book Bloggers’ Novel of the Year Award
Gay, pleasure-seeking Stefano Cartwright is almost killed by a wave on a holiday beach. His journey up a tunnel of light convinces him that God exists after all, and he may need to change his ways if he is not to end up in hell.
When God happens to look down his celestial telescope and see Stefano, he is obliged to pay unprecedented attention to an obscure planet in a distant galaxy, and ends up on the greatest adventure of his multi-aeon existence.
The Hurtle of Hell combines a tender, human story of rejection and reconnection with an utterly original and often very funny theological thought-experiment. It is an entrancing fable that is both mischievous and big-hearted.
The creator turned away from his supernova – it would be there for a good while yet – and reached for his tube, which could be extended in whatever direction he chose to point it. Now he thrust it through the galaxies towards its target and peered through the nearest end. Light coursed down the dark cylinder as he did so, creating a massive torch arcing down to the surface of the rock. He was able to fix with remarkable accuracy – only two or three misses before he got it right – on the precise spot where the commotion had started. At first it was all a blur, and he had to twist the little wheel at top of the looking-end, which had been made slightly too small for divine comfort. When, after a little fumbling, he got it to work, he saw that he was not alone. Looking back at him were two large, green eyes, framed by long lashes, blinking in the glare. As the light filled the length of the tube, the eyes seemed to accustom themselves to the brightness; they widened, first in astonishment and then fear, whereupon they vanished as quickly as they had come. Then the tube went dark and it was God’s turn to blink.
Stefano must have blacked out. When he came round, he was looking down on an agitated crowd. They were clustered around something lying on the dark, wet sand, just clear of the waves. At the centre of the gathering crouched a squat, middle-aged man in improbably tiny Speedos, buttocks in the air. Bent over the body of a pale young man, he was trying to give him the kiss of life. The poor bastard, thought Stefano uncharitably. He would get a shock if he came round to find that guy sucking his face.
Craning to get a better look, it occurred to him that the stricken swimmer’s candy-striped trunks looked familiar. Now he realised that so was the body, which really was shamefully pallid compared to all the bronzed onlookers. It was superficial to be so critical, but Stefano had every right, because that was his own body he was looking down at. That was him, lying there on the beach.
This was like the weirdest dream he had ever had, but he somehow knew, as surely as he had ever known anything, that this was not a dream. This was happening.
He watched the kiss-of-life guy come up for air, puffing it in with a great gulp, and then hunch over for another attempt. The scene was silent, and it took Stefano a moment to grasp that this was not because nobody was talking, but because he could not hear. There must still be water in his ears after being pulled under like that. If only his rescuer would stop the kissing thing for a moment and tilt his head from side to side, it might drain out.
He could see the onlookers’ mouths moving as they jostled inwards. Now someone – Stefano recognised the soft-drinks seller who hawked Coca Cola from a cart in the middle of the beach – pushed them back. Give him some air, he would be saying, because that was what people always said in situations like this, only he would be saying it in Spanish, and Stefano had no idea what that was. And there, finally, was Adam, with only a hint of anxiety at first, turning abruptly to panic. Stefano did not need to lip-read to know that his own name was being shouted.
Then, abruptly, the scene was gone. He could no longer see himself, nor any of the people around him, and he was surrounded by specks of white light. As his eyes adjusted to the brightness, he saw that he was in some kind of tube. Not that he could see the sides – the lightness was everywhere and nowhere – but it felt like some kind of extraordinary tunnel because it was brighter up ahead, and now he was conscious of rising towards the far end of it. He felt light-headed, euphoric, as if the whiteness were shining inside him. It reminded him of the first rush of a pill, in the days when they still worked and you knew why it was called ecstasy, only there was nothing illicit about this. What was happening to him? As he rose further and further up the long, white cylinder he was curious about what he would find at the end, but he felt no fear.
He blinked to focus better as the white walls rushed past him. There was definitely something up there now, different from the shining white, covering the entire end of the tunnel. His attention was drawn in particular to a pinpoint of pitch black at the centre, which gradually widened as he came closer. Now it became a deep, inky pit that he seemed to be moving steadily towards, a black hole at the end of the white corridor. All around the edges of this hole straggled translucent rivulets of white and grey, coursing over a glistening blue ground and pouring into the black abyss like water into a well. Beyond these shining trails of white, he saw, was something else: a border, like smooth rocks circling the pool of rivulets. Or maybe it was softer...porous, organic, alive.
It looked like an eyelid, he suddenly realised: the black hole was a giant pupil, the straggling rivulets over a shining blue ground were the iris, and that giant lid must belong to…
‘He’s breathing!’ shouted someone, disturbing his concentration, and he heard a painful rasping sound accompanied by exclamations of relief. He blinked his eyes open, which was odd, because he could have sworn they were open already, and found he was looking at the kiss-of-life guy again, not from above this time, but from his own body, flat on the wet sand. He could hear again, that was for sure, and the rasping was coming from his own throat as he coughed up brackish sea water. The kiss-of-life guy smiled. With his wide, fat lips and gappy teeth, he reminded Stefano of a kindly toad. Then the face was replaced by an even more welcome one.
‘I thought I’d lost you,’ said Adam, and Stefano could see he was trying not to cry. ‘How do you feel? Don’t try to talk. We need to get you to a hospital. Can we get him to a hospital?’
Someone was shouting Spanish into a mobile phone. Adam kept turning away to talk to people, and it seemed an age before he was paying attention to Stefano again and there was a chance to tell him. To try to tell him, at any rate – it was hard to breathe, let alone talk, and his whole head stung with salt.
‘Don’t try to speak,’ said Adam. ‘Just stay there for the moment and then we’ll get you to hospital. No, you mustn’t try to move. Please, lie still.’
Stefano tried again to reach for Adam’s hand, finding it this time and attempting to pull him closer. ‘You don’t understand,’ he was saying in his head, only it would not come out like that. It would barely come out at all. But he kept trying, and Adam was eventually forced to stop shushing him and lean in close to make out what he wanted to say.
‘I think...’ said Stefano at length, concentrating hard to make the words separate themselves from one another.
‘I think I just saw the eye of God.’
‘A sparkling mixture of domestic and celestial comedy. A conflicted gay man meets his bungling creator in an ingenious take on It’s A Wonderful Life’
‘Simon Edge has given us a creator for our times, hilariously at the mercy of forces beyond even his control’
‘Funny, perceptive, insightful’
‘Part philosophical quest, part redemptive religious exploration, this is an original and witty look at religion and society seen through the eyes of a hapless and confused young man. The result is a clever and enchanting fable of self-discovery’
‘An interesting and funny theological thought-experiment’
‘Wonderful… frequently hilarious… this thought-provoking exploration of homosexuality, atheism and God with a telescope is a delight. Without any reservation I recommend it as a story which will both make you laugh and make you think’
‘This light-hearted thought experiment delves into the religious unknown, giving a twist to theistic writing that will make you smile. Most impressively, it gives a voice to God that combines a human flair with hilarious detachment’
‘An unorthodox, comical and often deep story of rejection and reconnection with daft, challenging and fun plot twists. It’s not what it seems, but then what is? Edge delivers a warm-hearted narrative of redemption that’s never judgemental but is inclusive, funny and undoubtedly heretical. Read it or burn it, depending on your sense of humour’
‘The Hurtle of Hell feels like the sort of thing that Douglas Adams might have enjoyed. An endearingly strange narrative... it’s at its most witty when focused on God – his predilection for dry sherry or his fascination with televised football – but the anchoring narrative at its heart gives it a real emotional force too. It’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’
‘I never expected to be using the phrase ‘religious banter’, but here I am. It’s light in tone but dense in subtext, and it’s really funny’
‘Very funny as well as very entertaining... The Hurtle of Hell is written with style that just flows and makes you read on. I loved that Edge included God’s perspective in it because it provided something fresh... and the comedy shines through because of the characters’
‘God’s observations [are] an effective commentary on organised religion and man’s exaggerated sense of his own value. It is both amusing and sobering to reflect on. An entertaining addition to my summer list’
‘Entertaining and easy to read, this atheist exploration of religious belief (or vice versa) is a light-hearted look at some serious, very real, issues. I found myself amused while reading, but soberly contemplative on after-reflection’
‘While we may think of this as a funny novel, Simon Edge provides some very thought-provoking and provocative ideas on life and human behaviour as well as on the complexities of relationships, belief, religion and spirituality’
‘Moving, questioning and absorbing, a very funny yet extremely adroit novel about the relationship we humans have with God and vice versa. I absolutely loved it’
Simon Edge writes in the Daily Express about the research into the scientific basis for near-death experiences which gave him the idea for The Hurtle of Hell.
Listen to an extended interview with Simon Edge about The Hurtle of Hell by Lesley Dolphin on BBC Radio Suffolk.
Simon Edge writes for TripFiction about the Canary Islands location of the opening of The Hurtle of Hell.
A London blogger writes about the launch of The Hurtle of Hell.
Read a magazine Q&A with Simon from his home county of Suffolk.