This is a massive 700 page debut novel by author Steve Toltz and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008. Meet the Deans. As Jasper Dean starts off “The fact is, the whole of Australia despises my father more than any other man, just as they adore my uncle more than any other man. I might as well set the story straight about both of them…”
That statement should give you a hint of the ride you are in for as a reader.
With his father, Martin Dean now dead, Jasper tries to make sense of him while writing from gaol for a reason unknown to readers. Villain or hero? Crazy or sane? He tries to understand some of his father’s schemes to try and make the world a better place. There is one main concern that plagues Jasper: is he going to end up being crazy like his father? Throughout his father’s life, Jasper did his best to keep his distance to avoid the lunacy but at the same time, appeared to have a bond with him. After all, his father tended to have good intentions to begin with but with catastrophic consequences.
Martin Dean was a difficult, paranoid and intelligent man during his time alive. He spent about four years as a child in a coma and once out of it, felt disconnected from the world and outwardly philosophical. All Martin wanted to do was leave his mark behind in this world. And trouble began when people started listening to him. Martin’s sanity is questioned throughout the book. The uncle adored by the whole of Australia, Terry Dean, was a sporting hero in his younger days and a criminal later when plagued by injury. But a Ned Kelly type vigilante who was out to get all the sporting cheats. And hence, looked at as a hero. However, Terry is eventually captured and presumed to have died in a bushfire that ravaged the prison.
Jasper takes us on this rollercoaster journey through his father’s and uncle’s lives (narrated at times by Martin) and his father’s crazy adventures, how his father comes up with a way of making everyone in Australia a millionaire, gets married to his childhood sweetheart becomes the prime minister, then becomes the most hated man in the country, flees the country with Jasper to Thailand and his own story of jetting off to Europe to search for his absent mother’s past.
All in all, it’s a fun read and keeps you hooked to know more about the characters. It has its laugh out loud moments and its “you-can’t-be-serious” ones too. It’s a riot and one hell of a ride! A great achievement by a debutante. About Australia. About being able to not take yourself too seriously. And about craziness and lunacy of human beings. And how in life, in the end, there are only a few important people who matter.