Fraction of the Whole (Toltz) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
First novels these days too seldom dare to raise their voices above an elegant whisper or an ironic murmur. Not so A Fraction of the Whole, a riotously funny first novel that is harder to ignore than a crate of puppies, twice as playful and just about as messy. This is not a book to be read so much as an experience to be wallowed in. Mr. Toltz’s merry chaos—a mix of metaphysical inquiry, ribald jokes, freakish occurrences and verbal dynamite booming across the page—deserves a place next to A Confederacy of Dunces in a category that might be called the undergraduate ecstatic. A Fraction of the Whole is a sort of Voltaire-meets-Vonnegut tale.
Wall Street Journal


A rich father-and-son story packed with incident, humor, and characters reminiscent of the styles of Charles Dickens and John Irving.... Occasionally, a big, sprawling first novel fights its way into print with a flourish, at which point its ambition and the eccentricities of its ‘firstness’ can become its best marketing tools. Such is the case with A Fraction of the Whole, a book that is willfully misanthropic and very funny…like Irving, Toltz makes minor characters leap off the page.... He’s a superb, disturbing phrasemaker...this long novel, which lives or dies in the brilliance of its writing, has a subtle, compelling structure.... A Fraction of the Whole soars like a rocket.
Los Angeles Times


An exuberantly funny debut novel that you should just go away and read.... There is plenty to laugh at in A Fraction of the Whole—and also, goodness knows, there is plenty of plot and the narrative pace of a puppy with attention deficit disorder. But it also has a heart.... A grand achievement and the debut of a great comic talent.
Sunday Times (UK)


Very light on its feet, skipping from anecdote, to rant, to reflection, like a stone skimming across a pond.... There’s a section about a labyrinth that you could imagine Borges writing, another about a lottery gone wrong that made me think of Vonnegut, and a strange, lovely account of childhood illness that had echoes of Garcia Marquez. In some ways it plays like a modern Arabian Nights.... The inevitability of disaster is heartbreaking.... Brilliant.
Guardian (UK)


A Fraction of the Whole is that rarest of long books–utterly worth it.... The story starts in a prison riot and ends on a plane, and there is not one forgettable episode in between…It reads like Mark Twain with access to an intercontinental Airbus....This book moves; it bucks and rocks in a world tha t feels more than a hemisphere away.... So comically dark and inviting that you have no choice but to step into its icy wake.
Esquire

 

Packed with plots, sub-plots, sub-sub-plots, tangents, flashbacks, diversions, philosophical wanderings and spectacular set pieces…Fuelled by brilliant ideas and driven by an original, bracing, and very funny voice.
The Age (Australia)


(Starred review.) At the heart of this sprawling, dizzying debut from a quirky, assured Australian writer are two men: Jasper Dean, a judgmental but forgiving son, and Martin, his brilliant but dysfunctional father. Jasper, in an Australian prison in his early 20s, scribbles out the story of their picaresque adventures, noting cryptically early on that "my father's body will never be found." As he tells it, Jasper has been uneasily bonded to his father through thick and thin, which includes Martin's stint managing a squalid strip club during Jasper's adolescence; an Australian outback home literally hidden within impenetrable mazes; Martin's ill-fated scheme to make every Australian a millionaire; and a feverish odyssey through Thailand's menacing jungles. Toltz's exuberant, looping narrative-thick with his characters' outsized longings and with their crazy arguments-sometimes blows past plot entirely, but comic drive and Toltz's far-out imagination carry the epic story, which puts the two (and Martin's own nemesis, his outlaw brother, Terry) on an irreverent roller-coaster ride from obscurity to infamy. Comparisons to Special Topics in Calamity Physics are likely, but this nutty tour de force has a more tender, more worldly spin.
Publishers Weekly


For those who, if they think of it at all, think of Australia as a bloated island full of Tasmanian devils, baby-devouring dingoes, and convicts, with an iconic opera house thrown in, this eagerly awaited Australian debut novel comes as further confirmation. Here the focus is the dysfunctional Dean family, which boasts the notorious Terry Dean, bank robber, cop killer, and bona fide Australian legend. Under his large and imposing shadow, his brother and his brother's son, Jasper, have both withered into reclusive, crotchety curmudgeons with more than their fair share of eccentric opinions, and Jasper is in rebellion against not only his uncle but his father as well. This is one Oedipus story told, though, with lots of snap and crackle, as well as pop. While there are no new stories, even Down Under, Jasper's progression reads like the trajectory of a gleefully crazed Roman candle across the southern skies in this sprawling, entertaining, decidedly quirky, and at times laugh-out-loud-funny romp reminiscent of John Irving's family sagas or Brocke Clarke's An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England. Recommended for all public libraries.
Bob Lunn - Library Journal


(Starred review.) What satirical fun is found on the madcap pages of this rough-and-tumble tale.... This hilarious, sneaky smart first novel is as big and rangy as Australia.... Toltz salts it all with uproarious ruminations on freedom, the soul, love, death, and the meaning of life. This is one rampaging and irresistible debut.
Booklist


A bloated first novel from Australia. The opening promises suspense. Narrator Jasper Dean is in prison; his father's body, he confides, will never be found. The suggestion of foul play, though, is a misleading tease. Moving back in time, the father, Martin, takes over as narrator; he and Jasper switch roles throughout.... We end, exhausted.... One thing after another in a novel that wallows in excess.
Kirkus Reviews

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