Steve Toltz: A joker who bites back at hacks

By Francesca Segal, June 20, 2008

We meet Steve Toltz, an Australian novelist set to make a huge impact

‘What actually started me on this story was something that we in Australia inherited specifically from the English newspapers,” says debutant novelist Steve Toltz. “Every now and again the papers will decide to crucify someone… In America, they’ll just wait to get a photo of him with his pants down or something but, in Australia and the UK, we’ll actually call the man a scumbag on the front page. We had a number of cases where everyone got on the bandwagon and, as a nation, hated someone. Although it’s almost done in a light-hearted way, I’ve always had a visceral reaction to it. I wanted to imagine what it would be like if that was your father.”

The resulting book, A Fraction of the Whole, does indeed explore what it feels like when your father is the most hated man in the country but that is just one aspect of a narrative that sweeps across continents and decades in search of enlightenment. The reflections of its hero, Jasper, following the death of his father, add up to a hilarious novel well worth the four years its author invested in its creation.

A much-travelled writer, Steve Toltz has lived in Canada, the US, Spain and France. Now, he and his wife, a French painter he met in Madrid, are living back in Sydney. The son of two Sydney lawyers, Toltz’s past jobs include stints as a security guard and a private detective. He shares with his protagonist the experience of having a Polish immigrant grandmother. Otherwise, he insists, “my book is not at all autobiographical. But when you are faced with a blank page, especially with a first novel, you often grab something that’s true. So very early on, the thing that I grabbed on to was my grandmother’s story coming from Poland…

“The only other time Jewishness is mentioned in the book, and the only other element that I drew from my own experience, was the antisemitism that Jasper receives at school — the jokes about money and noses. That was a recurring experience in my childhood. After a while, you don’t even care about the ugly sentiments behind the jokes — you just wish they were funnier.”

Well, Toltz’s book is very funny and he has started a second novel. It may take another four years, but it is hard to imagine it won’t be worth the wait.

A Fraction of the Whole is published by Hamish Hamilton (£17.99)

Last updated: 3:02pm, August 28 2014