The Fragments by Toni Jordan

I’m prefacing this review by saying that I like Toni Jordan’s writing (and in particular, Addition was a terrific book).

The Fragments is a literary mystery (in every sense of the word). The story alternates between 1930s New York and Brisbane in the 1980s. In New York, celebrated author Inga Karlson dies in a fire and her highly anticipated second book is also burnt, leaving just a few scorched fragments of the manuscript.

Fifty years later, Brisbane bookseller Caddie Walker is at a Karlson exhibition featuring the famous fragments when she meets a charismatic older woman. The woman quotes a phrase from the Karlson fragments that Caddie knows does not exist, and yet to Caddie, it feels genuine. Caddie decides to investigate.

It’s really, really difficult to give yourself over to a book when the premise isn’t plausible, and that’s why I ran into strife with The Fragments. Is it possible to have just one book that is universally adored? That is meaningful to so many people? That creates a cult-like following decades after it was published? And if this book existed, how likely is it that there would be multiple academics sitting in the English Department of a university in Queensland studying it?

I wondered if this story was inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman – it was the closest real-life example I could think of to bolster Inga Karlson’s plausibility. And yet, even Harper Lee falls short – would people queue at a museum for hours to see bits of her manuscripts? Are there still multiple (funded) academics making Lee’s writing their fulltime work?

There was more to struggle with – as the mystery-solving is gathering momentum, Caddie becomes involved with a person from her past, essentially trading a blossoming relationship for an old, unhappy one. It didn’t ring true, although I liked Jordan’s writing around Caddie meeting with ex again –

Philip was good at silences, she remembers. Manufacturing holes for you to step in.

And another struggle – Jordan’s fine writing gets lost in the melodrama. There are some lovely phrases – ‘The joints in Rachel’s wrists click and sigh’ and ‘Every breath is the scraping of a thin shale across river sand’ – but the action out-paces them. Overall, disappointing.

2.5/5 It’s me, not the book.

I received my copy of The Fragments from the publisher, Text Publishing, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

The girls from school are all mothers now, or nurses or teachers, and every couple of years the part-timers at River City Reader lift off for Barcelona or London or Milan, where they intern at literary agencies or open sangria bars…

As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (July 9): Belfast 14°-20° and Melbourne 11°-18°.

5 responses

  1. Pingback: 20 Books of Summer (except that it’s Winter) | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

    • Your very specific examples of the things that niggled are excellent – I lost patience. Agree that the characters associated with the university and book-selling were very well done. Ultimately, I find it a bit frustrating that Jordan is such a good, versatile writer and yet chooses to write a book with such a far-fetched plot.

      I thought about other ‘literary mysteries’ while I was reading this one – stories like Jessie Burton’s The Muse, and Zafon’s In the Shadow of the Wind, and really, The Fragments didn’t hold up. A shame.

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