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A Fraction of the Whole

A Fraction of the Whole - Steve Toltz Once in a while I will read a book that will leave me utterly astounded. After I finish such a book I feel moved in a way I cannot explain. I become almost zealous in my advertising of said book, telling relatives, friends, colleagues etc. I want to leap on strangers on trains who are reading it and form a lifetime friendship or hand out copies to people in the street who haven't had the chance to read it because they are missing out!

Anyway, you get the picture. The point is THIS is one of those books. I started it a few days ago and finished it today and despite having been somewhat concerned by its length initially (700+ pages) I am already missing it.

Toltz sets out a tale of an extraordinary man (Martin Dean) told partly from Martin's perspective and partly from his son's (Jasper). It spans from his childhood to his death and is one of the most remarkable works of fiction I have ever read. It's impossible to describe the events and characters that make up the novel (a criminal thug/mastermind - depending on your view - for a brother, a career criminal for a friend and mentor, a son he believes to be a reincarnation of himself and so on) without writing hundreds of words. Reading is believing in this case.

Martin is a genius, a recluse, desperate for recognition yet desperate to be left alone, possibly insane, possibly with a better understanding of the human race than most people. His character is so complex and well written and that is the backbone of the book. It is a biography of Martin's life and a partial biography of his son's and both characters leap out from the page as if they were standing in your own front room. You can be utterly frustrated or disgusted with them one minute and be thrilled with them the next - and after all, isn't that the essence of many human relationships?

Add to that a smattering of extraordinary events, another handful of believable, intriguingly flawed characters, some excellently placed quotations and you have an absolute gem. Toltz is clearly well read and illustrates several points of the book starkly yet beautifully with words from others. Yet it is Toltz's words that I will remember and this book will take pride of place with those other rare finds that have shaken me up. If I read anything else as good this year, I'll be stunned.