A Fraction of the Whole begins in a “strange prison”. Jasper Dean has a story to tell, but declares that it is not easy to negotiate with memories; nevertheless, he engages the reader’s attention. 

Why did his father, Martin, become the most hated man in Australia?

Conversely, how did his uncle Terry attain the status of national hero?

And what lies behind the enigmatic statement: “My father’s body will never be found?”

Creative commons image Credit: Rob Michalski under CC-BY-NC-SA licence
Inside the old Melbourne Gaol [Image: Rob Michalski under CC-BY-NC-SA licence]

In childhood Martin Dean is struck down by a mystery illness, then slips into a coma that lasts for well over four years. He recovers, to find that he has a brother. The novel traces Terry’s development from talented young sportsman to notorious criminal.

Inspired by advice to “Create”, Martin embarks upon a series of outlandish schemes and bizarre projects, to try to discover his own identity.

Jasper needs to come to terms with his extraordinary father, and also has to find himself: “To get to the bottom of myself. To get to the bottom of thought. To get beyond time.” En route, he learns about his mother.

Steve Toltz’s debut novel runs to over 700 pages, which a number of critics have found excessive. Mixed reviews note that the book is “riotously funny”, a “rich, father-and-son story”; whilst suggesting that its “garrulous absurdity” wears thin.

Did you find it “unforgettable, rollicking and deeply moving”, or were you turned off by “some awful dud patches” and gags that are “arrant nonsense”?

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