Masterpieces #33: A Fraction of the Whole

A Fraction of the Whole
About A Fraction of the Whole (2008)
A Fraction of the WholeWith rights sold around the world, this irreverent comic adventure spanning three continents is poised to be one of the most talked about fiction debuts of the year.

A Fraction of the Whole marks the arrival of an ambitious new writer who deftly mixes humour, surprise, and astute observations of the human condition to create a novel that entertains, scandalizes, and enlightens.
Martin Dean spent his entire life analyzing absolutely everything – from the benefits of suicide to the virtues of strip clubs versus brothels. Now that he’s dead, his son Jasper can fully reflect on the man who raised him in intellectual captivity.

As he recollects the extraordinary events that led to his father’s demise, Jasper recounts a boyhood of outrageous schemes and shocking discoveries – about his infamous and long dead criminal uncle, his tortured and mysteriously absent European mother, and Martin’s constant losing battle to make a lasting impression on the world.
It’s a story that takes them from the Australian bush to the cafes of bohemian Paris, from the Thai jungle to labyrinths, mental hospitals, and criminal lairs, from the highs of first love to the lows of rejection and failed ambition. The result is an uproarious indictment of the ridiculousness of the modern world and its mores, and the moving, memorable story of a father and son whose spiritual symmetry transcends all their many shortcomings.

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Steve Toltz – A Fraction of the Whole (2008)

Steve Toltz’s debut is a remarkable achievement for a first novel, set primarily in Australia but also taking in Paris and Thailand as well. An in-depth study of one family across three generations, A Fraction of the Whole manages to be both funny and tragic and is filled with some extraordinary events.

The novel focuses on the Dean family and begins from the perspective of Jasper who is serving time in prison for an unspecified crime. With time to reflect on the past, Jasper shares the story of his father, Martin, an uncertain pendulum between philosophical ingenuity and mental instability, who becomes the most hated man in Australia. In contrast there are also tales of Martin’s younger brother Terry who, despite being one of the most notorious criminals in Australia’s history, is also one of the republic’s most beloved sons. Toltz’s epic novel traces the origins of Martin and Terry, the former spending four years of his early life in a coma and once awake feeling maladjusted with the world, a sensation that never really dissipates throughout his life. Terry, on the other hand, is the more popular younger brother that looks out for Martin at school. Destined for success in sports, Terry’s life is transformed forever when a confrontation with two boys bullying Martin leaves Terry with a wound to his leg that ruins his chances of taking up sport at a professional level. Terry switches to crime and remains at the forefront of notoriety in the media while Martin is always in his younger brother’s shadow.

That is but a mere backdrop to A Fraction of the Whole which has many stories to tell, including the account of Jasper’s birth and why he has never known his mother. Jasper, Martin and Terry are the focal points of the novel with Toltz projecting complicated and often tragic relationships between them. Martin is constantly striving to find his place in life, gifted in unique ideas that he eventually shares with the world but often finds them backfiring. With Terry’s crime spree seeing him plastered all over the Australian newspapers he is constantly in the limelight ahead of Martin and it causes great resentment. However, the main relationship in A Fraction of the Whole is devoted to Martin and Jasper, with the latter remaining loyal to his father but finding his ideas and methods disturbing. Martin wishes to share his experiences with Jasper and teach him about the many complexities of life and the lessons he has learned along the way.

At the core of the novel is the complexity of family life that the majority of us will be fully aware of. Jasper’s relationship with his father is often bitter but from his prison cell at the novel’s outset he feels compelled to share the story of his father, Martin, and of his uncle, Terry, having reached a level of acceptance about the past. Everything Jasper sees has a profound effect on his life but how he comes to be in prison I cannot divulge for it will ruin the entire novel. For all its humour A Fraction of the Whole delivers some chilling moments in the latter stages, while the up and down relationship between Martin and Jasper will undoubtedly moisten the eyes of some readers and bring lumps to the throats of others. The novel is an emotional and exhausting journey but one well worth taking.

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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