by Mike & Fossfor
A Fraction of the Whole
by Steve Toltz
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
"I'm 1/4 of who I should be! Maybe even 1/8. "
A Fraction of the Whole is by Australian debut writer, Steve Toltz, and was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize this year. Four years in the making the book is 711 pages long and follows the lives of the Dean family. A book that long by a new author normally makes me nervous: has it been edited properly? Will it be full of dead wood that should have been cut? Fortunately it is has been through 5 drafts and is stuffed full of gems. Some of those gems are the musings of Jasper Dean's father Martin Dean (pictured above by Fossfor) and are fascinating, make you think, but make you want to strangle Martin at the same time.
You see Martin isn't like us. He thinks outside of the box and then can't get back in. He traps himself with his musing and ideas and projects. He surrounds his house in a labyrinth and thinks himself into a corner with his thoughts on death which ruin his life, believing that death is the base cause of all human belief systems.
In childhood Martin's mother, afraid of losing her son, poisons him so that he is to weak too leave home and Martin in return in adulthood poisons his own son with his ramblings and thoughts. Martin ends up in a mental institute before faking normality to escape and is constantly tormented by the past actions of his famous brother Terry, a legendary outlaw in Australia whose life overshadows his.
"The past is truly an inoperable tumour that spreads to the present."
And Martin's ideas never stop. They are the blood in his veins. When he's elected into public office the ideas spew into society.
"Cash rebates would be offered to those who could demonstrate self-awareness."
Frequently his ideas backfire and destroy those around him until he himself succumbs to them and becomes the most hated man in Australia.
The story that reveals all this is a roller coaster and is great fun. There is Caroline who both Terry and Martin love:
"Her mask was a weave of tattered shreds torn from all the beautiful parts of herself."
And Martin's friend Eddie who keeps taking photos of him and Jasper.
"Watching your lives was like watching an accident in slow motion. It was compelling."
And Jasper's mysterious European Mother.
It's all a bit mad really. But a wonderful madness that is compelling, entertaining and certainly for me one of the best reads this year.
Half way through I decided that this was a book of ideas. I loved it, but I didn't care for the characters.
And then towards the end the surprise.
As Steve takes you towards Martin's death you realise that you have been played all along and care for the fate of this fascinating but annoying man. Jasper realises it to and it is a poignant moment in the book.
Steve Toltz was born in Sydney, Australia, and has lived in Montreal, Vancouver, Barcelona and Paris, working primarily as a screenwriter, but also doing stints as a private investigator and an English teacher.
Artwork of Martin Dean an original painting by Fossfor for TVFH