Book Review: Gould’s book of fish

Gould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish
by Richard Flanagan

My first Richard Flanagan novel, and I doubt it will be my last. I listened to the audiobook, superbly narrated by Humphrey Bower. Next time I read this it will have to be the standard print – not because I didn’t love Bower’s narration, but because it’s the sort of book where you need to flip backwards (and probably forwards) to try to understand it better.

This is a work of fabulous imagination, rooted in Australia’s dark past, at once a fantasy and an expansive philosophy. There are few likeable characters, yet we can see something of ourselves in many of them. I was initially attracted to the book because it is set, in part, in the harsh convict prison of Sarah Island, Tasmania. I read a lot of Australian history, and I’m lucky enough to have been to Sarah Island. But the island of the book is barely recognisable – and therein lies the first of the author’s many fabrications. Flanagan descriptions are convincing and utterly believable: yet when he tips reality on its head we wonder why we didn’t see it coming.

This is a book that will surprise, disgust, engage and move the reader: most authors would be happy enough to achieve just one of these!

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