Wednesday, July 23, 2008

BOOK: A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

Orbis Terrarum Challenge: Australia

I first heard of this big ole book when bookfool mentioned it, then kookiejar loved it. It's big in size (531 pages) and ambition. Toltz covers a lot of material here, and I'll try to summarize a bit.

Jasper Dean is writing his family's colourful history in Australia, focusing on his father Martin and uncle Terry. It's about philosophy, fathers and sons, loneliness, hypocrisy, the media, and criminals, among other things, and it is told in a very funny manner. The one liners are thrown out in rapid succession at times. Martin's part in the story is told in his point of view, and at times I had trouble keeping Jasper and Martin's voices separate, but that is part of the story, how similar the two are, and when does the son become the father?

It is set in Australia, but not in a way that is stereotypical, i.e. no kangaroos or koalas, but modern life, and the outlaw history is commented on with all the criminal activity that Terry undertakes. The story starts in the outback, and scenes in front of the Sydney Opera House and activity of the parliament in Canberra are mentioned too, so we are certainly in Australia. The cynicism of the characters leads to their comedic lines and reminded me of Oscar Wilde's type of commentary, or the absurdity of some of John Irving's novels. Sometimes I had trouble reconciling the humorous lines with the situations and attitudes of the characters, but I kept reading. It was as if I wasn't quite getting the tone of the novel. I also didn't connect with the characters enough to race through the book. However, by two thirds of the way through, some great twists of plot started happening that I did not see coming and the book engaged me in other ways.

This book is getting great reviews at and has some great qualities. I didn't love it enough to gush, but I did enjoy it by parts. (ha, A Fraction of the Whole book!) It was pretty funny by times, but also tragic, and some terrible things happen. The plot plodded along for a while, but then started twisting and twirling around in ways that made me want to keep going. There was a lot of philosophizing going on by Jasper and Martin, which is where a lot of the comedy was, but it went on a bit too much for me at times. So it's a mixed review from me, but I think there are lots of readers who will love it.


  1. Doesn't sound like my kind of book but I will keep in mind for recommendations for those who might like it in the bookstore I work in.

  2. Your review backs up my impression that the book would not be for me - well done on getting through the novel...

  3. I just realized you've already read 2 of the Booker shortlist titles. I'm impressed!!

    I also liked your joke!

  4. Hi, got here through an indirect orbis terrarum link. That really was a great review! I read the book recently )and enjoyed it.


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