Summary and book reviews of A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

A Fraction of the Whole

By Steve Toltz

A Fraction of the Whole
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2008,
    544 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2008,
    576 pages.

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Book Summary

Meet the Deans

“The fact is, the whole of Australia despises my father more than any other man, just as they adore my uncle more than any other man. I might as well set the story straight about both of them . . .”

Heroes or Criminals?
Crackpots or Visionaries?
Families or Enemies?

“. . . Anyway, you know how it is. Every family has a story like this one.”

Most of his life, Jasper Dean couldn’t decide whether to pity, hate, love, or murder his certifiably paranoid father, Martin, a man who overanalyzed anything and everything and imparted his self-garnered wisdom to his only son. But now that Martin is dead, Jasper can fully reflect on the crackpot who raised him in intellectual captivity, and what he realizes is that, for all its lunacy, theirs was a grand adventure.

As he recollects the events that led to his father’s demise, Jasper recounts a boyhood of outrageous schemes and shocking discoveries—about his infamous outlaw uncle Terry, his mysteriously absent European mother, and Martin’s constant losing battle to make a lasting mark on the world he so disdains. It’s a story that takes them from the Australian bush to the cafes of bohemian Paris, from the Thai jungle to strip clubs, asylums, labyrinths, and criminal lairs, and from the highs of first love to the lows of failed ambition. The result is a rollicking rollercoaster ride from obscurity to infamy, and the moving, memorable story of a father and son whose spiritual symmetry transcends all their many shortcomings.

A Fraction of the Whole is an uproarious indictment of the modern world and its mores and the epic debut of the blisteringly funny and talented Steve Toltz.

ONE


You never hear about a sportsman losing his sense of smell in a tragic accident, and for good reason; in order for the universe to teach excruciating lessons that we are unable to apply in later life, the sportsman must lose his legs, the philosopher his mind, the painter his eyes, the musician his ears, the chef his tongue. My lesson? I have lost my freedom, and found myself in this strange prison, where the trickiest adjustment, other than getting used to not having anything in my pockets and being treated like a dog that pissed in a sacred temple, is the boredom. I can handle the enthusiastic brutality of the guards, the wasted erections, even the suffocating heat. (Apparently air–conditioning offends society’s notion of punishment—as if just by being a little cool we are getting away with murder.) But what can I do here to kill time? Fall in love? There’s a female guard whose stare of indifference is alluring, but I’ve never been good at chasing women&#...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

The result is a ragged and loping tale, captivating even in its imperfections. So what if characters are forever "groaning" or "screaming" or "shrieking" at one another, never just "saying" or "replying." Toltz's over-exuberant writing style is worth it for his nonstop comedy and his unruly metaphors ....   (Reviewed by Amy Reading).

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Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

A bloated first novel from Australia...One thing after another in a novel that wallows in excess.

Library Journal

[A] sprawling, entertaining, decidedly quirky, and at times laugh-out-loud-funny romp.

Booklist

Starred Review. This hilarious, sneaky smart first novel is as big and rangy as Australia . . . Toltz salts it all with uproarious ruminations on freedom, the soul, love, death, and the meaning of life. This is one rampaging and irresistible debut.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [A] sprawling, dizzying debut from a quirky, assured Australian writer.

Esquire - Tom Chiarella

This book moves; it bucks and rocks in a world that feels more than a hemisphere away, a world where the crispy black shadow of 9/11 does not inform every word from the mouths of geniuses and the evolution of one man, let alone a planet. All 544 pages are so comically dark and inviting that you have no choice but to step forward into its icy wake.

Los Angeles Times - Richard Rayner

Toltz is a superb, disturbing phrasemaker -- "Sex: the match that sets off human fireworks. In our loveless palace we've built a child," notes Martin in his diary. But this long novel, which lives or dies in the brilliance of its writing, has, too, a subtle, compelling structure. The plot is, to say the least, eventful, and while some twists seemed predictable, I loved the wild ride. A Fraction of the Whole soars like a rocket.

Reader Reviews
Vera

Very smart and funny
This book is going on my top ten books of all time. And I have read a lot. This book is intellectually captivating, a very smart kind of funny, and surprising without being predictable. It truly is a wild and crazy read. A one point in the ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Steve Toltz the man is as laconic as his character Martin Dean is loquacious. The author bio on the book jacket simply reads: "Steve Toltz resides in Sydney, Australia. A Fraction of the Whole is his first novel." This paucity of information is quite rare for a debut novelist in our personality-obsessed consumer culture.

Digging a little deeper, I found this extended bio on the publisher's website: "Steve Toltz was born in Sydney and has lived in Montreal, Vancouver, New York, Barcelona, and Paris, working as a cameraman, telemarketer, security guard, private investigator, English teacher, and screenwriter. A Fraction of the Whole is his first novel."

Still not very illuminating, though, so it was time to investigate ...

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