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Monday, November 4, 2013

A Fraction of The Whole by Steve Toltz: Review

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The first time I came across this book, I wasn't aware of it's status at the Man Booker Prize. A Fraction of The Whole by Steve Toltz is a 2008 novel that was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in the same year. The main reason I picked up the book was due to it's quirky story line Sane families are all alike - but every crazy family is crazy in its own way. Whoa!!! That sure grabbed my attention.

If you want to understand a bit more about the storyline, here's the cover jacket for you to read: CLICK HERE

Before we move on to the review, here are the details about the book:
Title: A Fraction of The Whole
Author: Steve Toltz
Publisher: Penguin
No. of Pages: 711

Type of cover read in: Paperback (also available in hardback)

The book is surely a huge book, given that it's over 700 pages, but the best part about reading it, especially if you're not the type of person who likes to read big books, is that the story is so interesting and the pages go by so fast, you won't really realise how much you'll end up reading.

The story follows three decades of the Dean family in Australia. It essentially deals with the three main characters - Jasper Dean and Martin Dean (Jasper is Martin's illegitimate son) and Terry Dean (Martin's brother).

The story begins with Jasper writing in his prison cell, the reason for his confinement yet unknown to the reader. The entire novel is written from Jasper's perspective.

From here, we move to the time when Jasper is five years old and has been taken out of school by his father, Martin, who insists on a home schooling method for his son. Here, Martin chooses to move beyond the regular school curriculum and instead, teach his son about life, and its many moments, especially how to survive through life.

For most of his life, Jasper can't decide how to deal with his feelings for his father Martin. He absolutely hates him, sometimes wants to kill him himself, sometimes pities him and sometimes simply gives up. With Martin's habit of overanalysing life and its many events, his personality sometimes, or most often than not, borders on completely mentally unstable, and Jasper can't decide what to make of his crazy father.

Now that his father, Martin is dead, Jasper begins to truly understand more of the man who raised him in his own extraordinary style, and realises that, for all its unstoppable lunacy, theirs was a great adventure.

My thoughts on the book:

First things first, the book is absolutely one of the most wonderful, witty, humorous, crazy, idiotic, nonsensical, intelligent, philosophical book I have read in a long long time. If you think I've gone crazy, or that my description of the book is crazy, well then, you've got the perfect word to describe the book - CRAZY!

The book is outstanding, and should be on your must-read list if you haven't read it already. Of course not everyone would agree that this is a great book. The winner for the Man Booker 2008 was Arvind Adiga's The White Tiger. I've read the book. Agreed the writer is an Indian and I myself am an Indian, and many would say this should make me proud. But unfortunately, Mr. Adiga's book didn't really impress me, and I must add that, having read both these books from the same year's list, I truly would have voted for A Fraction of The Whole. (I also read Sea of Poppies by Amitava Ghosh that was a shortlist the same year, and I entirely can't understand how the tiger got it! ..... well!!)

The moment you start reading the story, there will be parts that will come up to you from the book and grab your attention, simply snatch your eyeballs. And yes, the book is philosophical in many parts, in a funnily witty way. I mean, you'll be reading something and finding various layers to it and going deep within, while also smiling or laughing about it.

The book is absolutely crazy. And I don't mean 'nutty' crazy, I mean crazy in a good way, in a real fun and witty way. Filled with the author's intelligence and sharp wit, you can only imagine how much thought goes into writing something insane that still makes sense....and not just sense, but will make you stop and think and end up seeing you nodding your head in agreement.

The story moves in time, and sometime you're with a grown up Jasper, other times you're with dad Martin and his little son Jasper. The story flits a lot in time, but it's not difficult to keep track.

Also, as the story moves from one part of the world to the other, the author effortlessly binds everything together. I must say that for a debut novel, this was outstanding. The book is at once funny, nothing like you've ever read before, crazy, intelligent, emotional, philosophical, intense, smart and one that's going to stay with you for way long after you've finished reading the last page.

The characters are extremely well-sketched and you'll find yourself entirely mesmerised with their lives, believing in the unbelievable...and isn't that the mark of a true storyteller? One who can whip up magic and make you believe it's real, still holding on to the charm?

Thats the book for you......a Must-Read. Have you read it? I still haven't come across anyone personally who has, so if you have, do let me know what you thought of it......

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- Debolina Raja Gupta