Saturday, January 10, 2009

"A Fraction of the Whole" by Steve Toltz

Year of publication: 2008
Genre: novel, family saga
Setting an Time: Australia, Paris and the jungle of Thailand,
Themes: Parent-son relationship, life, underground life, love, Australian people, life in the bush, philosophy

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize

About the author: Steve Toltz was born in Sydney in 1972. He graduated from the University of Newcastle, New South Wales. He has lived in Montreal, Vancouver, New York, Barcelona and Paris. A Fraction of the Whole is his first novel.

Plot: The main story is basically about a young man whose father and uncle are famous criminals, but only one, the uncle, is adored by all Australians, while the other, his father, is utterly despised by everyone in the country. Martin, the father, had good intentions at the beginning: he is a sort of misanthropic philosopher who hates the world but tries to improve it. And then there is his son Jasper, who is influenced by both his uncle and his father but tries to be completely different from them.

Some thoughts: Despite the fact that I’m biased against long books (and this is 700+ pages long) it’s a terrific novel. There are so many anecdotes and quotes in the book that, as Kristin said, you want to kiss its spine and open it at random for a witty quote. The novel could be described as wild and extremely funny. The Guardian said that its problem is “an over-abundance of wit”, because “sometimes the results are exhilarating, impressive, and/or hilarious” but “at other times, the boom-tish joking and constant clever-cleverness annoy”. Personally, I didn’t find Toltz’s wittiness annoying, but I must admit that there was so much of it and in the end you get lost!
One thing that is strange, but amazing, is that there are not many characters in the book despite its length. The best part, in my opinion, was the first one: I loved Terry, and I felt guilty because of that (he’s a criminal after all!). This is also a story of how Australians like criminals (Ned Kelly docet). And about sport, because that’s the other thing that Australians adore (Terry kills the captain of the cricket team, how Australian is that?). The only reason why A Fraction of the Whole didn’t win the Booker Prize is probably its length: Toltz loves to show his intelligence and talk about the philosophy in your life, but then he gets carried away, writing about nothing for pages. Result, after 500 pages of jokes and witty thoughts, you really want to skip some of it. With this material he could have written at least four different novels.


  1. I LOVE this book. I've reread it 6 times, and laugh/catch something new every time.

  2. I don't really remember myself wanting to skip any of it or have it divided into parts. Four other different novels from him would be more exciting though. A total mind-fuck that's making me learn some things.