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A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

A Fraction of the Whole (2008)

by Steve Toltz

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English (60)  Dutch (5)  German (1)  All languages (66)
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
The Fraction of the Whole failed for me. The reasons remain unclear. Perhaps it is a younger soul's predilection, like skinny jeans. Novels which yearn to be hilarious seldom are, at least to me. This was a lasagna of philosophical rant larded with jokes and asides. It didn't bake well in my presence. Perhaps it is a longwinded Candide for the Oz set. The characters all possessed identical voices and the contrivance of the project induced groans. I remain both uncertain and unmoved. There is a relief that it is over.

Likely a 2.5. Rounded downward to reflect my mood. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Some of my favourite books are Big Books --- Anna Karenina and Bleak House, for example. And I read Stephen King’s The Stand at least four times. So when I say “I hate big books,” clearly I don’t mean ALL big books. Just most of them. I appreciate a tightly written 200 page novel, 300 if the author wants to ramble a bit. My main complaint with long books is that I usually just don’t want to be in the world the author created for that many hours, especially now since life has cut back on my reading time. I like to get into a book, enjoy it, and get out, and then bring on to the next one. The other problem with every long book is full of filler that shows the lack of a strong editor. The upside is that with A Fraction of the Whole, I discovered more about myself and my distaste for long books.

Before we go further, I’ll say that there was a lot to love about A Fraction of the Whole. There were sentences and paragraphs that were among the most beautiful and clever that I’ve ever read. There are sections that tell a great story ---one that is both heartfelt and entertaining. Whether you read critical reviews or reader reviews, you’ll see that people love this book, and deservedly so. But for me, it was just too much. I read and read and read and didn't feel like I was getting anywhere. I’ve been reading this book since March. That’s 7.5 months.

What It’s About: Jasper Dean, living sometime recently in Australia, tells his story growing up with his manic father Martin, who’s lived his life in the shadow of his criminal brother Terry. Terry Dean is the most popular criminal in Australia since Ned Kelly. Individually, these three characters continually try to improve the lives of those around them by gambling on some off-the-wall scheme, but it always turns in to bad (sometimes tragic) unintended consequences.

What I liked: as I already said, great writing and storytelling.

Why I Struggled:
1. The singular voice—definitely my biggest problem with A Fraction of the Whole. Some parts are told by Jasper, some by Martin, but they both have the exact same voice. And it’s always slightly frenzied. Although the voice could be very, very funny, overall, I found it tedious. Note to self: perhaps for long novels, look for 3rd person narration and a variety of characters.

2. My edition was only 561 pages long due to formatting, but normal editions are well over 700 pages. It’s rare that a book needs to be that long. This should have been divided into at least three novels, maybe four. Further pain ensued because the various breaks are random—this book has 7 numbered sections of length varying from 200 to 50 pages. Within these sections there are randomly spaced subsections. Long sections always make any book a slog, in my experience. Give the reader’s eyes and brain a bit of a breather, and often we can’t wait to jump back in. Don’t make us wade through wet concrete.

3. I was around 100 pages in before we heard from a female character. That just bores me. Also, at one point, Jasper and Martin have girlfriends, and I was several pages into a vignette about one of them and thought I was reading about the other ---I came up short when there was a comment about her being in her 30s, and I was all “hold on, she’s 17!” I had to go back and reread with the other character in mind, and I realized that they were basically the same person with a different hair colour. Was this part of the theme of the son reliving the father’s life in every way?, or was it the author’s complete inability to write real female characters? I’m going to say the later.

4. The characters were always desperate for money, but somehow they managed to eat and have a home to sleep at every night without really saying how. I don’t know, maybe Australia just has a robust welfare system. I don’t actually believe that.

Other Things to Say: A Fraction of the Whole was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, which is pretty damned impressive for a first novel, especially when the author isn’t British (no slag against British writers, but instead an observation that we colonies don’t make the list every year, so all the better. Good job, Steve Tolz!).

Rating: Mixed. 3.5 stars. I think that it took me most of the year to read, but that I still finished (I abandon books in a heartbeat), says something. Not sure what it says, but something.

Recommended for: Reviews tell me most people like this more than I did, I despite my protests, I’m not sorry I read it. I just would have been satisfied at any 200 page section.

Why I Read This Now: I had just finished the longish Books Are Beautiful The Little Stranger and thought I’d tackle another long book from that series. I had to take a lot of breaks and read other things in between. ( )
2 vote Nickelini | Oct 10, 2018 |
Epic, rollicking fun, with a liberal dose of heartbreak and melancholy, too. This really reminded me of John Irving books like Garp, Owen Meany, and Hotel New Hampshire. It has a similar combination of adventurous, what's-around-the-next-corner plotting, and black humor that masks a deep well of humanistic tragedy. The tale of Australia's worst father and the son that loves/hates him nicely pulls off being outrageous, bigger than life hi-jinks, as well as a moving character story. ( )
  Chamblyman | May 19, 2018 |
The best think I have read in years. I could not stop myself from laughing and crying outloud. ( )
  Mainlyme | May 8, 2018 |
This is a story that covers multiple generations of the Dean Family, focusing mostly on brothers Martin and Terry Dean, and Martin’s son Jasper. Jasper is the narrator of the tale, writing his story down from prison, and promising the reader right off that they will never find his father’s body. Although it took a long time to get through the story, oddly enough I rarely felt impatient. The characters are thoroughly developed and I enjoyed spending time with them. The tale has tragedy, humor, romance and violence. The only drawbacks were the long philosophical monologues by Martin, and the story itself was a bit overlong. After Jasper became a teenager I felt the author kept writing just to extend the story, and not necessarily because he had anything further to say. But the ending was lovely and unexpectedly poignant, and I find myself thinking about Jasper and wondering how his story continues. Four and a half stars. ( )
  dorie.craig | Jun 22, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
I'm sorry if I'm beginning to make it sound a bit rollicking. The stories, in fact, follow a pattern: they are almost all tales of good intentions with catastrophic results, such as the suggestion box which Martin installs on the town-hall steps and which at first instils a new sense of purpose and confidence in the community, but quickly brings out the worst in everyone and leads to his brother being sectioned. Taken individually, they're funny; taken together, the unbreakability of the pattern and the inevitability of disaster is heartbreaking.
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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
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385521731, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:01 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

From his prison cell, Jasper Dean tells the unlikely story of his scheming father Martin, his crazy Uncle Terry and how the three of them upset - mostly unintentionally - an entire continent.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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