Combined Reviews: A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

fraction_of_whole.jpg Reviews of A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

[This novel was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize.]

Emily Maguire in "The Age": "Packed with plots, sub-plots, sub-sub-plots, tangents, flashbacks, diversions, philosophical wanderings and spectacular set pieces, this enormous debut novel from Australian Steve Toltz is in many ways a perfect example of what British critic James Wood calls "hysterical realism". Wood's term is supposed to be a criticism, but I use it here descriptively. A Fraction of the Whole is, as Wood would say, a 'perpetual motion machine', but it's one fuelled by brilliant ideas and driven by an original, bracing and very funny voice."
Lon Bram in "The Courier-Mail": "Steve Toltz's A Fraction of the Whole begins deceptively enough with a brilliantly funny monologue in which every sentence is a quotable aphorism clothed in light-hearted observations about human behaviour. Imperceptibly, the story leads into stressful descriptions and dramatic situations analysis and philosophy are easily assimilated through the formidably sustained use of humour -- black humour painted pink; sarcasm and cynicism made risible because it rests on a masked but inexhaustible well of compassion...And all of this in a suspenseful, captivating novel in which every page challenges our notions, ranging from love triangles to crime, politics and religion."
Adam Lively in "The Times" : "The Australian Steve Toltz's exuberantly entertaining debut novel is the kind that poses a conundrum for your humble hack. Reviewing comic novels is rather like playing tennis with a soap bubble -- if the thing's any good, you feel like just saying, "Hey, this is funny -- go away and read it", which is hardly FR Leavis. And if it isn't any good, then you come on heavy and sound like a curmudgeon. For what could be more blameless than trying to make people laugh?...Fortunately, there is plenty to laugh at in A Fraction of the Whole -- and also, goodness knows, there is plenty of plot, since the book has the dimensions of a family Bible (if this a fraction -- my God, what is the whole?) and the narrative pace of a puppy with attention-deficit disorder."
Tom Chiarella in "Esquire": "Here's my problem: Pretty much every time I get to the last 50 pages of a long novel, I wonder, What the hell did I read this for? All that time. All the lost hours. You can almost feel veins pulsing in the writer's temples. Yet for some reason, I take a look at the first page anyhow, because somewhere inside I am convinced that long books must still matter. Maybe this one will be worth it, I hope -- then I go in, falling to my knees, belly down under the pages...Well, A Fraction of the Whole (Spiegel & Grau, $25), by Australian Steve Toltz, is that rarest of long books -- utterly worth it -- which is why you'll have to bear with me on portents of this next line: This book is witty and intellectual, a physical comedy and literary rant all at once."
John Freeman in "The New York Times": "Someday in the future, when novels are considered quaint as daguerreotypes and Corvettes run on lemonade, literary historians will look at our age and see a generation of novelists in thrall to the first person. One can't open a first novel these days without being grabbed by the lapels and made to listen. Old men, young children, even the dead want to yak at us. Never has fiction been held aloft by so many filibusterers...Steve Toltz hails from Australia, where the badgering first person runs deep, so A Fraction of the Whole, his 530-page debut, grows in the shadow of great expectations. But can it do more than just talk our ears off?"
Frank Cottrell Boyce in "The Guardian": "It's a hard book to describe; whoever wrote 'rollicking' on the press release, for instance, should buy a dictionary. Dante's Paradiso is more rollicking than this. It's a fat book but very light on its feet, skipping from anecdote, to rant, to reflection, like a stone skimming across a pond...The same people keep popping up in the most unlikely places, like watching a lot of Road Runner cartoons one after the other: the more you admire the inventiveness and hope of Wile E Coyote, the more you can't bear to look as he plunges off the edge of the canyon. Fools ask why the Coyote is so fixated on Road Runner. Haven't they noticed that in all the wide desert there's nothing else moving? In all our lives, no matter how far we roam, how much we achieve, we were only ever after the attention and approval of a very small number of people -- our parents, our children, our lovers."
Jonathan Gibbs in "The Independent": "A 700-page debut novel will always generate a certain amount of attention. The special appeal of the Big Book is that it is going to achieve something greater than the sum of its many parts. To do all that with your first book shows ambition of potentially megalomaniac proportions. And megalomania is the defining characteristic of Steve Toltz's book, set largely in his native Australia ('our demented country')...There is no perspective, no sense of how seriously we are supposed to take it all. A Fraction of the Whole contains some awful dud patches, and some sparkling comic writing. It bounces with sarcastic aphorisms and invincible gags -- many of which reveal themselves, a moment or two after reading, to be arrant nonsense."
Peter Robins in "The Telegraph": "Toltz has the flair and most of the gifts required to write a really good comic novel: A Fraction of the Whole shows that to excess. Perhaps his next book will make up the remaining fraction."
Joel Yanofsnky in "The Montreal Gazette": "There was a time when it was automatic: You cut a first novel some slack. Reviewers, readers, too, were expected to take into account a rookie author's limitations. That often meant understanding when the story was, say, overly autobiographical, when it wasn't imaginative or ambitious enough...But times have changed. Now, first novels are like blockbuster movies and breakfast sandwiches: you go big or you go home...In his debut, A Fraction of the Whole, Australian writer Steve Toltz goes really big. It's not just that this picaresque saga of the criminal and crazy Dean family clocks in at 530 pages. Or that Toltz's mix of know-it-all philosophizing and comic shtick seems to set him up as a successor to literary whiz-kids like Dave Eggers and Jonathan Franzen."

Short Notices

"Blogcritics Magazine": "I will wait with some interest to see if Steve Toltz can capture lightning in a bottle twice. His first book could be his best, a feat never to be repeated. That would make it a masterwork. It could be just the first in a series of mammoth volumes, each peeling back layers of the society in which we live, showing us absurdity from the inside, skewering us from the viewpoints of a series of odd characters."
"Time Out London": "A Fraction of the Whole is marketed as a novel and a half -- and it's about half a novel too long. Toltz constantly tries to be linguistically innovative and the result is inconsistent. It is both tiresome and frustrating. He obviously has the talent to use language energetically, but the clunky passages, of which there are many, make one long for a ruthless editor."


Malcolm Knox interviewed the author for "The Sydney Morning Herald".
You can also get a fair amount of material at the novel's website.
And you can read an extract from the novel on the "Guardian"'s website.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on September 10, 2008 2:09 PM.

2008 Man Booker Prize Shortlist was the previous entry in this blog.

2008 Prime Minister's Literary Awards is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Monthly Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en