Posts Tagged ‘Steve Toltz’

I have wanted to read ‘A Fraction of the Whole‘ by Steve Toltz ever since it came out. I finally got around to reading it. It was a thick book, almost approaching chunkster-ish size at around 700 pages filled with tiny font, and while reading it, I was distracted by real life, elections, addiction to TV shows, temptations of slimmer books. But I persevered and I was thrilled when I crossed the last page today. It took me 21 days to read, and that is a really long time for a 700-page book, but I am glad that I stuck with it and didn’t give up.

The story starts with the narrator Jasper Dean describing his life in school and discovering one day that he had an uncle who was a famous outlaw and almost a folk hero. When Jasper asks his dad about his uncle, his dad, after some initial hesitation, tells the story. And we are taken on a roller coaster ride as the story moves from past to present through different time periods and things get crazier with every page.

Reading ‘A Fraction of the Whole‘ was like reading the literary version of a Coen brothers movie. The dark humour is amazing and I couldn’t stop laughing while reading the book. It was odd, because the story is mostly sad as bad things keep happening to the main characters, but the dark humour is so cool and stylish that it lightens the bleakness of the story. The book has a brilliant first passage which grabs our attention. I was thinking that as authors always give importance to the first passage and the first pages of a book, the first few pages will be gripping, but as the book progresses things will slip and the prose will lose its charm and become plain. But surprisingly, it was not the case here. The prose is cool and stylish and the pacing is taut even in page 200. It is hard to maintain that for hundreds of pages and Steve Toltz has done the impossible. I loved that aspect of the book.

The date on the first page that I have written says that I got the book in 2008, when it first came out. I am glad I didn’t read it then, because I didn’t understand dark humour then. Though I feel sad that the book lay on my shelf for years gathering dust, I am glad I read it now, because I could appreciate it better.

My favourite part of the book was the first part which is about Jasper’s father Martin and Martin’s brother Terry. It is a sad story, a realistic story, but the dark humour is at its most brilliant here. Later in the book, the events become more and more crazy and at some point we have to suspend our disbelief.

The book also makes references to real events like corruption in sports – the Shane Warne – Mark Waugh interaction with bookies is alluded to. There are even two characters who look suspiciously like the media moghul Rupert Murdoch and his son.

I loved ‘A Fraction of the Whole‘. It is one of my favourite books of the year. I am glad I finally read it. This book came out in 2008 and it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. I wondered why it didn’t win. So I went and checked the shortlist. That year the Booker Prize was won by Aravind Adiga’s ‘The White Tiger’. I don’t know in which world ‘The White Tiger’ is better than Steve Toltz’ book. That is one more decision that the Booker Prize committee got wrong. Toltz’ book deserved the prize. Steve Toltz has written one more book since, but has otherwise kept quiet and slipped into anonymity. I don’t know whether he is one-book-a-decade writer like Donna Tartt and Jeffrey Eugenides, or whether that is all there is and he is like Patrick Süskind and has retired to a quiet life in the outback. I hope this is not the end, and hope he writes more.

I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite passages from the book. I hope they make you laugh.

“I was taking a 45-minute shower. I know I was being unforgivably inconsiderate of the environment, but I’d read in ‘New Scientist’ that in a couple of billion years the expanding universe will have stretched to breaking point and will start contracting like a rubber band, time will run backward, and (therefore) the water will eventually return to the showerhead.”

“The worst thing you can say about someone in a society like ours is that they can’t hold down a job. It conjures images of unshaven losers with weak grips watching sadly as the jobs slip free and float away. There’s nothing we respect more than work, and there’s nothing we denigrate more than the unwillingness to work, and if someone wants to dedicate himself to painting or writing poetry, he’d better be holding down a job at a hamburger restaurant if he knows what’s good for him.”

Have you read ‘A Fraction of the Whole’? What do you think about it?

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