I'm not sure why, but I can't quite bring myself to give this five stars, but rest assured my four are big, heavy, glistening stars. Imagine them like the matching oiled pectorals on two tan-addicted steroidal gym monkeys, striding along a British beach on our long, glorious day (singular) of summer.
A Fraction of the Whole is great, though ultimately not perfect, and that is actually a significant part of its endless charm. It's a tall, even shaggy, story of young Australian men with a surfeit of character, butting against a normal world that can't cope with their intelligence, and won't accept their outsider status. The first part of the book covers the young criminal career of the Ned Kelly-alike anti-hero, Terry, seen through the eyes of his quiet, sickly brother, Martin. It then goes on to follow a young adult Martin travelling to Paris, events we see as his son Jasper reads a diary Martin wrote at the time. This peek inside Martin's mind shows us what an original viewpoint Steve Toltz has created: a mind that drifts free of convention and muses on the world in a dark, unpleasant way that most people would prefer to pretend was unique to Martin, but in fact is likely just how we all think about things when the lights are off. It's hard to take in places, but is nearly always very funny, and the humour-coated pills are sometimes too easy to swallow, as you find yourself agreeing with the lunatic at the centre of the story.
It's very hard to give a rounded picture of Toltz's debut, because it is so different from most new novels, and that's to its credit. It did remind me of the comic, digressive novel that came out last year, by Millard Kaufman, Bowl of Cherries
, but Toltz captures the antic tone better.
If I was forced to explain why I haven't given this five stars, I suppose it's because it doesn't all hold together at all times. The story reads as several shorter stories, and the narrative tone of Martin is too similar to that of Jaspar, but that is picking holes for the sake of it, and Toltz may well want the father and the son, so different in their lives, to ultimately sound so similar.
It is, without question, a very, very funny, engrossing, gabbling example of Australian exuberance, and I can well recommend it to you.