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A Fraction of the Whole

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A Fraction of the Whole is an ambitious, lively, ebullient novel that is funny, philosophical and always has an eye on the foibles of life. With arms wide open for its world, this is a picaresque, meandering tale on a grand scale. Restraint has been thrown out the window in favour of capturing the lives of its oddball, flawed and yet strangely resonant characters. The story revolves around the Dean family- Jasper, a judgemental but ultimately forgiving son and his father Martin, a deeply eccentric man with an often unfortunate relationship with life and the world. Jasper begins the story locked up in a prison, remarking cryptically that 'his father's body will never be found.' While we never know at this stage just what this means, or why Jasper is in prison, Jasper takes this opportunity to fill us in on his life, and the life of his father and uncle, the famous and much-loved Ned-Kelleysque Terry Dean. As Jasper recounts the story of Martin's early years in a small town on the outskirts of Sydney-a town that's central purpose seems to be building and supporting a prison-we learn quite quickly that Martin's developing misanthropy is a product of his environment and circumstance. While his brother, Terry, seems to have the gift of leadership and is destined for a kind of thwarted fame. In other sections of this vast novel, we learn of Martin's relationship with Jasper's mother, and the development of the deep and abiding relationship that Jasper and his father share, as well as the capacity Jasper has to forgive the excesses of a man whose eccentricity borders on madness. There are plenty of adventures to be had throughout the book, which include Martin's stint managing a squalid strip club; Martin's misjudged scheme to make every Australian a millionaire; and a feverish odyssey through Thailand's menacing jungles. It's almost like being holed up by a compelling story teller who you suspect is pulling your leg, but whose power of narrative doesn't let you go. The book does have its problems though. This is an overconfident debut that, while exuberant, lacks self-knowledge and becomes wrapped up in its own self-importance. I could have done with a bit less of the beer-coaster philosophy and with a bit more suspicion that there was something meaningful at the heart of all those fireworks. Nevertheless, it's an exhilarating tale that will engross many Australian readers. Shane Strange is a bookseller at Riverbend Books, voted Australian Independent Bookstore of the year 2007

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...

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