From his prison cell, Jasper Dean tells the unlikely story of his scheming father Martin, his crazy Uncle Terry and how the three of them upset - mostly unintentionally - an entire continent.
Steve Toltz was born in Sydney. His first novel, A Fraction of the Whole, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Guardian First Book Award. afractionofthewhole.com.au Facebook http-//stevetoltz.com
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 "[m]y 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. (Feb.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
A Fraction of the Whole is an ambitious, lively, ebullient novel that is funny, philosophical and always has an eye on the foibles of life. With arms wide open for its world, this is a picaresque, meandering tale on a grand scale. Restraint has been thrown out the window in favour of capturing the lives of its oddball, flawed and yet strangely resonant characters. The story revolves around the Dean family- Jasper, a judgemental but ultimately forgiving son and his father Martin, a deeply eccentric man with an often unfortunate relationship with life and the world. Jasper begins the story locked up in a prison, remarking cryptically that 'his father's body will never be found.' While we never know at this stage just what this means, or why Jasper is in prison, Jasper takes this opportunity to fill us in on his life, and the life of his father and uncle, the famous and much-loved Ned-Kelleysque Terry Dean. As Jasper recounts the story of Martin's early years in a small town on the outskirts of Sydney-a town that's central purpose seems to be building and supporting a prison-we learn quite quickly that Martin's developing misanthropy is a product of his environment and circumstance. While his brother, Terry, seems to have the gift of leadership and is destined for a kind of thwarted fame. In other sections of this vast novel, we learn of Martin's relationship with Jasper's mother, and the development of the deep and abiding relationship that Jasper and his father share, as well as the capacity Jasper has to forgive the excesses of a man whose eccentricity borders on madness. There are plenty of adventures to be had throughout the book, which include Martin's stint managing a squalid strip club; Martin's misjudged scheme to make every Australian a millionaire; and a feverish odyssey through Thailand's menacing jungles. It's almost like being holed up by a compelling story teller who you suspect is pulling your leg, but whose power of narrative doesn't let you go. The book does have its problems though. This is an overconfident debut that, while exuberant, lacks self-knowledge and becomes wrapped up in its own self-importance. I could have done with a bit less of the beer-coaster philosophy and with a bit more suspicion that there was something meaningful at the heart of all those fireworks. Nevertheless, it's an exhilarating tale that will engross many Australian readers. Shane Strange is a bookseller at Riverbend Books, voted Australian Independent Bookstore of the year 2007
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, Kansas City P.L., MO Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.