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.
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.