Lisa Walker - Between the Covers

A Fraction of the Whole

Steve Toltz

A Fraction of the Whole ushers in an eccentric new voice in Australian writing. I was drawn to this book after reading an interview with Steve Toltz where he rejected the advice for writers to write what they know he prefers just to make it up. Im with him.

The imagination behind this 700-page epic is inspiring. Its hard to compare it with anything Ive read before. Imagine Cloudstreet with a cast of criminal maniacs or Quentin Tarantino does Gone with the Wind and youll be half there. It is darkly comic, deeply philosophical and a page turner what a combination.

The books tagline is Meet the Deans. The Deans are the kind of family youd migrate to avoid but, oh how fascinating. Narrated in turn by Martin Dean and his son, Jaspar, the story takes us from Martins youth as an outcast in country NSW and follows him through his calamitous life.

Martin Dean is a misfit genius whose mission is to create ideas. As each idea comes to fruition it creates disaster. How can you not love a man who is prepared to self-immolate in support of longer holidays for primary teachers?

Martins brother, Terry, is a Ned Kelly-like figure with a murderous hatred for sporting cheats. While Martin struggles to emerge from Terrys shadow, Jaspar attempts to escape his fathers quirky brand of madness.

An engaging cast of extras includes the Deans mentor, master criminal Harry West. Harrys magnum opus on crime includes such wise advice as: If you can only drive an automatic, dont steal a manual.

Toltz has a wonderfully original way with language. Jaspar learns not to leave the windows of your heart open when it looks like rain. Minutes are never long but wide and cavernous. The book delivers many nuggets of wisdom, like Martins comment on a childhood game of musical chairs: in life you should always carry your own chair with you so you dont have to share dwindling common resources. How true.

A Fraction of the Whole is continually surprising and hilarious. As one of the characters says, the Deans life is like an accident in slow motion its impossible to turn away.

Despite the books length it left me wanting more of Toltzs unique take on life. If theres a sequel, Ill be lining up for another 700 pages.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.

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