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Gould's Book of Fish [Hardcover]

Richard Flanagan
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
RRP: £16.99
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Book Description

20 Aug 2002
In 1828, before all living things were destroyed, William Buelow Gould, a convict in Van Dieman's Land, fell in love with a black woman and discovered, too late, that love is not safe.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 404 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (20 Aug 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843541467
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843541462
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 13.2 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,709,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

With a title such as Gould's Book of Fish, Richard Flanagan's Commonwealth Prize-winning third novel, expect something wonderfully slippery and self-conscious from one of the finest talents to have emerged from Australia since Peter Carey. Like Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang, Flanagan has written a history of a lost colonial voice--that of William Buelow Gould, a "pathetick forger, this drunkard trying his best to be on the make" who in the 1820s was sentenced to hard labour on the brutal penal colony of Sarah Island, "a silver sea monster of fable rearing its terrible head" off the coast of Van Dieman's Land--present-day Tasmania.

Finding himself at the mercy of a brutal and insane colonial regime that indulges its bizarre fantasies whatever the cost to the inmates, Gould finds himself commissioned to paint fish indigenous to the island. Gould's beautiful book of fish survives to this day, and his pictures are part of the exquisite design of Flanagan's book, which attempts to reproduce the original feel of Gould's book. But this is the novel's last connection to reality. Gould's fish, with their "coloring & surfaces & translucent fins suggest the very reason and riddle of life". Gould begins to realise that "a fish is a truth", and gradually his own pictures become a point of resistance to the ruthless classification and surveillance that characterises life on the penal colony. The book is a picaresque fantasy that encompasses art, science, empire and commerce, as well as sex, murder, liberation, castration, bestiality and a whole host of even more unlikely topics. The writing is extraordinary--luminous, sinewy, at times hilarious, often gruesome. Sometimes Flanagan goes too far, as his linguistic pyrotechnics feel like a parody of Sterne or Rabelais, but there can be no doubt that Gould's Book of Fish is a marvellously ambitious novel from a writer with enviable raw talent. --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

'A great book, by turns bawdy and pensive, moving and abrasive, visionary and squalid, apocalyptic and confessional.' -- Washington Post

'A seamless masterpiece' -- Independent on Sunday

'Gould's Book of Fish is a novel about fish the way Moby-Dick is a novel about whales, or Ulysses is a novel about the events of a single day' -- New York Times

‘A bewitching novel… [Flanagan’s] writing has the unmistakeable shimmer of literary star quality' -- John Dugdale, New Statesman

‘Ferocious in its anger, grotesque, sexy, funny, violent, startlingly beautiful and, above all, heartbreakingly sad...’ -- Robert MacFarlane, Observer

‘Gould’s Book of Fish is a masterpiece’ -- John Burnside, The Times

‘With some memorably eerie writing and cynical comedy… Gould’s Book of Fish gives us a fantasised version of Tasmania’s early history' -- Will Cohu, Daily Telegraph --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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First Sentence
a normal crush of anxieties waiting to return to a normal confinement, and where no-one ever dreamt what it was like to be a seashore, abnormal things like becoming a fish wouldn't happen to you. I say perhaps, but frankly I am not sure. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Only a madman would open it . . ." 29 Nov 2002
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Format:Hardcover
All the stars in Amazon's firmament aren't sufficient award for this masterpiece. Flanagan uses nested metaphors like the famous Russian dolls, each exposing a new level of the same theme. Here the theme is the perception of the written word. Which of the stories told here is the valid one? Are all of them real, or all false? Lest this sound confusing, reader, take heart. Flanagan is a master storyteller and all he asks of you is a bit of patience while he unravels the life of a man beset by forces of breathtaking scope. After all, he is presenting you with the world of the British Empire.
Will a valid history of that Empire ever be written? Flanagan makes no such claim. He views its immensity from a tiny salient through the eyes of one its outcasts. William Buelow Gould is a man whose perception becomes increasingly distorted in a place that could break the strongest mind. Macquarie Harbour was a dumping ground for "hard case" convicts. Here, a thirty-two year old appears dismayingly aged. Here, all were "cobbers and dobbers" - men were mates ranged against prison authority but turning traitor against each other ["dobbing in"] when survival was the issue. Gould, an artist-forger, seems spared the worst effects of The System when he's posted to the colony's surgeon to produce watercolours of the local marine life. In this role, Flanagan takes us on a tour of "scientifick" thought of the time and its impact on people on the far reaches of the Empire - which spans the planet. Phrenology, evolution, religion of the time come to light from his skilled prose.
Gould, ever a pawn on The System's board, is taken from the surgeon to embark on a fresh enterprise. The prison Commandant has a commission for him.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clever, complex, and intriguing. 27 Nov 2002
By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Writing one of the must unusual and imaginative books I've read in a long time, Flanagan presents a multi-leveled novel which is full of wry, sometimes hilarious, observations about people and history, at the same time that it is a scathing indictment of colonialism's cruelties and its prison system, in particular. Almost schizophrenic in its approach, the novel jerks the reader back and forth from delighted amusement to horrified revulsion in a series of episodes that clearly parallel the unstable inner life of main character William Buelow Gould, who lives in "a world that demanded reality imitate fiction."
Sentenced to life imprisonment on an island off the coast of Tasmania, Gould cleverly plays the survival game, ingratiating himself with the authorities through his willingness to paint whatever they want-species of fish for the surgeon, fake Constable landscapes for the turnkey Pobjoy, murals for the Commandant's great Mah-jong Hall, and backdrops for his railroad to nowhere. It is through the fish paintings that Gould paints for himself, however, that he tries to hang onto his sanity against overwhelming cruelty, continuing to believe that life has meaning, though "[it] is a mystery...and love the mystery within the mystery."
This is not an easy book. The action, such as it is, is all filtered through Gould's mind, and that is shaky, at best. In a few passages, Gould (and Hammett, the speaker who opens the novel) describe dream-like reactions to events, reflecting their mental states (not magic realism). When the last hundred pages become surreal, the reader is well-prepared to accept the strange events which unfold.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gould's Book of Fish 18 July 2003
Format:Paperback
An extrodinary read which has since revolutionised my outlook on life. Gould's Book of Fish is set in 19th centuary Australia, and I chanced on the book while waiting for a holiday flight to same country. Flanagan is a raconteur of rare originality and effortlessly takes the reader on journey to the depths of Sid Hammets (the books protagonist) soul, as he struggles with his hidden passion for fish. I was utterly convinced by the authors treatment of a delicate subject, which would be have been at the time the very hight of taboo. This was a perfect holiday read which accentuated the charm of a unique country, and i was recommend this book to anyone who appreciates fresh ideas and thought provoking prose.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slippery When Wet 14 Aug 2002
Format:Hardcover
Richard Flanagan's third novel tells of the magical discovery of a 'Book of Fish' - the illustrated account of William Buelow Gould, a convict imprisoned on the penal colony of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) in the 19th century.
Anyone expecting the relatively straightforward narrative style of Flanagan's award-winning 'The Sound of One Hand Clapping'- also set in Tasmania - will quickly find themselves adrift in a very different world. Whereas the previous novel was almost painfully lucid and often brilliantly understated both in terms of the language employed and topics covered, 'Gould's Book of Fish' is a rather murky, often slippery flight of fancy, tackling as it does a number of topics; colonialism, liberty, art and science being but a few amongst many. Indeed, one may well argue that Flanagan's apparent desire for breadth is sometimes to the detriment of depth.
However, to attach too much weight to the handling of these various sub-topics - competent or otherwise - is to neglect that which lies at the heart of the book; namely the issue of reality. Flanagan's narrative is peppered with references to this central topic throughout - Gould is a 'pathetick forger'; the latter-day discoverer of the 'Book of Fish' is a man who trades on people's readiness to be deceived by the romantic tales he weaves around his fake antiques and who recounts Gould's tale from memory; whilst the book's ending leaves one with more questions than answers as to the identity of both narrators and the truth of their accounts. It is this subject - the blurring of the boundaries between fact and fiction - that allows Flanagan to wander at will through the half-crazed minds of his characters and which underpins the tale's numerous twists and turns.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding
This book is not what you think. I have read it and i am not sure what it is:)
This is my second copy as I swapped my previous copy whist travelling and have wanted to re... Read more
Published 6 months ago by J Z A
5.0 out of 5 stars If you like the sea and history you will like this!
Not what you think this book will be.I could not put it down and intend to read it again soon.
Published 16 months ago by KJB
4.0 out of 5 stars a powerful read
Gould's Book of Fish is the third book by Australian author, Richard Flanagan. The Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, in the State Library of Tasmania holds a book titled... Read more
Published on 22 Sep 2012 by Cloggie Downunder
4.0 out of 5 stars A delightfully whimsical tale
Part mariner's yarn, part psychedelic dream sequence, this book tells the story of a prisoner deported to Australia. Read more
Published on 13 Feb 2012 by C. Campbell
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem
I bought this book on a whim purely because of the cover picture. Taking the plunge into this story is like stepping onto a roller coaster. Read more
Published on 8 Aug 2010 by Dingle
5.0 out of 5 stars Confusing, but pretty fantastic
Love this book. Utterly incomprehensible in part, beautifully written in others. There's a lovely sense of hodgepodge about the narrative, it feels a little as though you're trying... Read more
Published on 13 Oct 2009 by LeJoG
3.0 out of 5 stars Gulliver's travels for modern times?
A picaresque, philosophical, grotesque yet somehow undeniably real tale of the travails of a convict transported to Tasmania. Read more
Published on 1 Oct 2008 by G. L. Haggett
2.0 out of 5 stars Lost interest in mid-read
It seemed at first that this book would be a real find. The prose was elegant, literary,the story unusual, intriguing... all started well... Read more
Published on 5 May 2008 by H. Lacroix
2.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to understand
I admit it: I bought this book for its beautiful cover. But when I started reading I found the contents to be quite tough. Read more
Published on 23 May 2007 by Linda Oskam
5.0 out of 5 stars in the best possible way -Eh?!?
Wow, gosh & What!!!
Just finshed this book and think i need a looong lie down to get my head around this! Read more
Published on 19 May 2005 by Grr
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