I picked this book up at Costco by doing my usual "2 minute assessment" routine. Namely, opening a book at random and reading a page or two. If it captures my attention, it's going home with me. The winning passage in this one was (p. 199. Scene: man chatting up girl at bar):
- Let's get another drink, I said.
We drank for another hour & I mutilated many of my most coherent thoughts by putting them into words.
You don't leave a book that contains a line like that unread. It did not disappoint. (...to say the least)
This is one of the best modern books I've ever read. Not so much for its storyline which, while memorable, comes in a pale third to the glorious writing style and the philosophical content brimming from the passages. I think this book will go down in history as one of the great philosophical tomes of this century. I can't remember when I last enjoyed a read this much. I do hope the author has much more in store for us along the same lines.
Some Editorial Reviews:
SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2008
"A Fraction of the Whole is that rarest of long books - utterly worth it... The story starts in a prison riot and ends on a plane, and there is not one forgettable episode in between... It reads like Mark Twain with access to an intercontinental Airbus... This book moves; it bucks and rocks in a world that feels more than a hemisphere away... So comically dark and inviting that you have no choice but to step into its icy wake." -Esquire
"Rollicking... laugh-out-loud funny." -Entertainment Weekly
"A rich father-and-son story packed with incident, humor, and characters reminiscent of the styles of Charles Dickens and John Irving... Occasionally, a big, sprawling first novel fights its way into print with a flourish, at which point its ambition and the eccentricities of its 'firstness' can become its best marketing tools. Such is the case with A Fraction of the Whole, a book that is willfully misanthropic and very funny... like Irving, Toltz makes minor characters leap off the page... He's a superb, disturbing phrasemaker... this long novel, which lives or dies in the brilliance of its writing, has a subtle, compelling structure... A Fraction of the Whole soars like a rocket." -Los Angeles Times
"Combines the hilarious high-low reference points of early Martin Amis with the annihilating punk inventiveness of Chuck Palahniuk." -Best Life
"One of the best books I've ever read. A Fraction of the Whole is better than The Corrections, and Toltz did it in one book while it took Franzen two to get The Corrections out into the world. Granted, you have your whole life to write your first novel, but my God, A Fraction of the Whole does things that most writers can't do in a lifetime... A wildly addictive exploration into a man's soul, a profoundly moving experience almost religious in its execution and possibly one of the sharpest and irresistibly humorous post-modern adventures I've had the pleasure to read... Steve Toltz has written a masterpiece, a smashing debut that will long be remembered as a colossal example of just how good fiction can be. He keeps you wired to the page from the jump and he defies gravity all the way to the end." -Ain't It Cool News
"First novels these days too seldom dare to raise their voices above an elegant whisper or an ironic murmur. Not so A Fraction of the Whole, a riotously funny first novel that is harder to ignore than a crate of puppies, twice as playful and just about as messy. This is not a book to be read so much as an experience to be wallowed in. Mr. Toltz's merry chaos - a mix of metaphysical inquiry, ribald jokes, freakish occurrences and verbal dynamite booming across the page - deserves a place next to A Confederacy of Dunces in a category that might be called the undergraduate ecstatic. A Fraction of the Whole is a sort of Voltaire-meets-Vonnegut tale." -Wall Street Journal
"Madcap, exhausting, and true in the way the best lies always are." -New York Observer
"Wild... an odyssey that's inspired, sorta stoned, tender, and very funny. Sometimes all at the same time. Toltz's invention is as breathtaking as the speed of his narrative in a book that seems to have had all the boring parts snipped... There is wit on every page... Jorge Luis Borges is obviously an influence on Toltz. There is also a bit of John Irving and Tom Robbins here in the wacky characters and narrative drive. A Fraction of the Whole even has a touch of the weary philosophizing of Vonnegut, too. In its structure - and especially in its ending - there is even a pinch of Tristram Shandy. Very good company, all." -Chicago Sun-Times
"Hold on tight because you are about to ride a juggernaut of words, where things will go by very quickly and you better pay attention... The real pleasure in reading this book is the pace and the language. What Toltz has done masterfully is have his way with every aspect of modern life. He racks 'em up and knocks 'em down with a laser wit, a fine turn of phrase and a devastatingly funny outlook on everything human." -Seattle Times
"An exuberantly funny debut novel that you should just go away and read... There is plenty to laugh at in A Fraction of the Whole - and also, goodness knows, there is plenty of plot and the narrative pace of a puppy with attention deficit disorder. But it also has a heart... A grand achievement and the debut of a great comic talent." -Sunday Times (UK)
"Sparkling comic writing... It gives off the unmistakable whiff of a book that might just contain the secret of life." -Independent (UK)
"This absurdly incident-laden, feverish, farcical life story bears the watermark of long gestation. What's more, it stands above the vast majority of debut novels because it seems so marvelously sure of itself and what it should be... Toltz's fizzing, acid, funny prose is capable of a kind of broken, lyrical beauty... Amid the dizzying whirl of events, Toltz never loses sight of a deep current that runs throughout his story... It's a spiritual search that allows a conclusion that finds an affecting depth of feeling. Yes, A Fraction of the Whole is a wildly looping rollercoaster. But there's much more to it than meaningless exhilaration." -Independent on Sunday (UK)
"With tinges of magical realism and buckets of misanthropic humor it's a clever and funny debut." -Observer (UK)
"Very light on its feet, skipping from anecdote, to rant, to reflection, like a stone skimming across a pond... There's a section about a labyrinth that you could imagine Borges writing, another about a lottery gone wrong that made me think of Vonnegut, and a strange, lovely account of childhood illness that had echoes of Garcia Marquez. In some ways it plays like a modern Arabian Nights... The inevitability of disaster is heartbreaking... Brilliant." -Guardian (UK)
"Quirky, satirical, and absolutely delirious... A Fraction of the Whole is one of the most hilarious, original literary romps in years with sizzle on each and every page. Hold on tight and enjoy the ride." -Tucson Citizen
"A sprawling, dizzying debut... Comic drive and Steve Toltz's far-out imagination carry the epic story... a nutty tour de force." -Publishers Weekly, starred review
"What satirical fun is found on the madcap pages of this rough-and-tumble tale... This hilarious, sneaky smart first novel is as big and rangy as Australia... Toltz salts it all with uproarious ruminations on freedom, the soul, love, death, and the meaning of life. This is one rampaging and irresistible debut." -Booklist, starred review
"The perfect vacation read for just about everyone... This book allows you to romp along with the characters on an epic journey with two crazy Australian brothers who you fall madly in love with despite their wild, degenerate lives... packed with so many rich characters, setting descriptions, philosophy and fun you need something to aid digestion after each reading... Steve Toltz is hilarious, smart, with a fantastic imagination... His novel is a rollicking worldwide adventure... Take time to enjoy this one; you won't be disappointed." -The Daily Planet, Telluride, CO
"A Fraction of the Whole belongs to a neglected subgenre: serious fiction that refuses to take itself seriously. A ballsy, beautifully idiosyncratic epic, it asks dizzying primal questions about mortality, belief, and the shadowy, unmapped alleyways of human thought - and Toltz manages his metaphysics like a master surfer riding a colossal wave... It's a madcap, propulsive story... The energy of the writing is brilliantly infectious... The novel's heart is as big as its intellect... It feels like an added bonus that, for all its hilarious misanthropy, A Fraction of the Whole testifies to the power of even the most reluctant love." -Sunday Business Post (Ireland)
"Packed with plots, sub-plots, sub-sub-plots, tangents, flashbacks, diversions, philosophical wanderings and spectacular set pieces... Fuelled by brilliant ideas and driven by an original, bracing, and very funny voice." -The Age (Australia)
"Reads like the trajectory of a gleefully crazed Roman candle... a sprawling, entertaining, decidedly quirky, and at times laugh-out-loud funny romp reminiscent of John Irving's family sagas." -Library Journal
I really really wanted to like this book. In fact I wanted to love it. I wanted it to be one of those special books that keep you up late at night, struggling against sleep to devour as many pages as possible with no concern whatsoever for how large the bags under your eyes will be the next morning. The critics reviews were shimmering, folks on Goodreads seemed to enjoy it, and well, maybe that's the problem with reviews...regardless of how much of the human population enjoys something there is still a good chance that you will not. Take "Glee" for example...sorry folks but I just don't get the allure of that show.
The book started out promisingly enough and early on I was genuinely interested in finding out what lie ahead in the ridiculously absurd lives of Jasper & Martin Dean. Their stories were bizarre, quirky, odd, and darkly humorous. Being a somewhat pessimistic person myself I initially loved their pessimism for their lives and everything around them. I think everyone can relate at times to the ridiculousness of some of the situations that life confronts us with and I really appreciated Toltz's unique perspective on these events.
Then an odd thing happened...After reading countless pages of incoherent philosophical ramblings, most of which dealt with Martin & Jasper's general disdain for life itself, the allure began to wear off. I found my decreasing like for the characters (and the book itself for that matter) to be proportional to the increase in the amount of cynical diatribes I was forced to endure. I get I get it...Life sucks and then you die and all that jazz, but do I need to be reminded of this for 561 straight pages? That dead horse was beaten one too many times by page 67 or so. Now I don't need what I read to be all cheery and filled with blooming flowers, hopping bunnies and cute bird couples chirping playfully in a cool spring breeze, but I do need to care about the main characters at least a bit to maintain my attention. The problem was that Jasper & Martin's cynicism for life itself just grew incredibly tiresome and I stopped caring about them completely. After all, what's the point of a story if you could care less what happens to the characters by the end of it?
All is not lost though as Toltz really does write beautifully. There were many times throughout the book where specific lines were written so wonderfully that I needed to stop and reread them multiple times so that I could fully adsorb the full spectrum of their amazingness. I mean seriously, the line "To have a child is to be impaled daily on the spike of responsibility" really resonates with a 30 year old single guy like myself...Do I want kids one day? Yep, but not now! Who will watch him/her when I go to a coffee shop and read for an hour while enjoying a cup of joe? A selfish thought for sure but it was as if Toltz had scraped this thought directly from my brain and converted it into text in a much more eloquent manner than I would ever be able to. In fact, I was certain to reread that particular quote to my girlfriend instantly after I absorbed it. Thanks for the support Mr. Toltz!
When all was said and done however I really struggled to get through this book. The length had nothing to do with this, as I love reading massive tomes, but the somewhat inconceivable storyline coupled with the aforementioned philosophical mumbo jumbo grew to be too much for me to swallow by about halfway though. I'm not one to leave a book unfinished however and thus I soldiered on to its severely anti-climatic conclusion. All in all I think Toltz has a promising career ahead of himself and I wouldn't hesitate to check out his next novel. I'd just ask that it be less bloated with pages of pointless material and just a tad bit less pretentious. Just a tad.