Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in 12 Fish

Product Details
$18.00  $16.74
Grove Press
Publish Date
5.2 X 8.9 X 1.2 inches | 1.0 pounds

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About the Author

RICHARD FLANAGAN holds a Master of Letters from Oxford University and presently lives in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.


"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. . . . a wondrous, phantasmagorical meditation on art and history and nature; a surreal examination of the parlous consequences of British colonialism and the ambivalent legacy of the French Enlightenment; a fantastic tale . . . a novel that weds the cacophonous digressions and philosophical asides of Tristram Shandy to the magic realism of Gabriel García Márquez; a novel that welds a Joycean love of language to a billowing, Melvillian vision of the world." --Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"Richard Flanagan has created an astonishing masterpiece that challenges, provokes and entertains at every turn... Chock full of ideas, exuberant language, indelible images and borrowings that echo the classics of world literature, from the fiction of Fielding, Sterne and Dickens right through Joyce, Borges and Thomas Pynchon." --Brad Zellar, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"A great book, by turns bawdy and pensive, moving and abrasive, visionary and squalid, apocalyptic and confessional. . . . Obviously this sort of thing requires and ambitious imaginative reach and a convincing narrative voice, qualities that Flanagan distills masterfully into Gould's account of a searching and picaresque life hovering at the blurriest, farthest reaches of the human shore." --Chris Lehman, The Washington Post

"What's memorable--even extraordinary--about this book are Flanagan's aphoristic talent, his imagination and his uncanny ability to channel the Rabelaisian voices of the great picaresque writers--Fielding, Sterne, Smollet. . . . [Flanagan] remains unique, one of the novel's most ambitious talents, one whose every book . . . commands our attention." --Caroline Fraser, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Remarkable. . . . A meditation on colonialism--indeed, on history itself. . . . A serene, chilling vision of human life as comparable to the life of fish, 'swimming in vast coldness, alone.'" --The New Yorker

"A vivid sea tale, a resonant story of conquest, a hallucinatory record of the bizarre, and perhaps something like a sea anemone--luridly colored and transfixingly strange." --Entertainment Weekly

"[A] novel of ingenious invention and lavish scope. . . . For all that Flanagan questions everything from the truth of recorded history to the upshot of the French Enlightenment, he affirms the wonder of fiction. And life." --Sherryl Connelly, New York Daily News

"One part Rabelais, one part García Marquez, one part Ned Kelly. . . . Flanagan has terrific narrative energy." --James Campbell, New York Times Book Review

"Flanagan's vivid descriptions make for a memorable, if challenging, read. It's a celebration of fevered imagination. . . . The words triumph in Gould's Book of Fish." --Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today

"Richard Flanagan's remarkable new novel, Gould's Book of Fish, is a brilliantly rendered work of the imagination that investigates the complex relationships among art, ordinary human life and the natural world with great intelligence and unquestionable panache. . . . The book is full of wild hilarity, heartbreaking cruelty and suffering, and finally love, both selfless and profane. . . . A work of significant genius." --E. William Smethurst Jr., Chicago Tribune

"A rollicking, picaresque tale and ambitious colonial revision. . . . A captivating version of Tasmania, a tale of ugliness, love, brutality and humor, through a found text, manipulated history and fish. The fish provide enough reason to pick up the novel; the insights into Tasmania and the pleasures of Gould's narration make one read on." --Benjamin Austen, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Fantastic . . . it commands full attention . . . Flanagan climbs right into Gould's skin to tell a darkly funny and brilliantly sad story about words, art, colonialism and the nature of mankind. . . . The novel goes beyond nature to talk about the European plunder of native lands and culture as well, addressing these things with heartfelt sorrow and, at times, high humor." --Karen Sandstrom, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

"The slipperiest, most outrageous novel of the year. . . . Flanagan's previous novel, Death of a River Guide, was a gorgeous, mystical history of Tasmania that transpires during the four minutes it takes its narrator to drown. Gould's Book of Fish is just as wet, but it swims in deeper waters. It may not win him a larger audience, but it will earn him a more passionate one." --Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor

"[Flanagan's] crowning achievement so far. . . . Gould's Book of Fish is a book of marvels, beautifully written and appropriately beautifully produced, so that the physical artifact actually strengthens and reinforces the tale. Flanagan's tale is a riotous one, a dazzling combination of loveliness and grotesquerie, fancy and fact. It's Tasmanian postmodern magic-realism." --Corey Mesler, Memphis Commercial Appeal

"Audacious, labyrinthine and gratifying. . . . Gould's Book of Fish recalls Joyce with its free-fall word fervor and use of language, and suggests the magic realism of Gabriel García Márquez. More constant refrains, though, call to mind . . . Ovid [and] Joseph Conrad." --Gordon Hauptfleish, San Diego Union-Tribune

"A work of pure brilliance. . . . Gould's Book of Fish is a literary landmark." --Deloris Tarzan Ament, Seattle Times

"Gould's Book of Fish reads like an unwanted relation of Tom Jones, set where the land was wild and its immigrants wilder." --Bruce Barcott, Outside

"A daring and inventive new work. . . . Combining the linguistic trickery of Nabokov with Dickensian characterizations, mixing genres and moods, Richard Flanagan has created a magical amalgam, a self-conscious recasting of 19th-century storytelling that is a commentary on the nature of history, of narrative, of creation itself. . . . A rare creature. . . . Classify it as a masterpiece." --Julie Hale, Nashville Scene

"A grand meditation on art, science, brutality, and awe--one that careens through a magical, surreal kaleidoscope of fantastical happenings. By turns tragic, comedic, and exuberant, [Gould's Book of Fish] plumbs the depths of the horrific and soars to the sublime in its quest to understand the 'inexplicable wonder of a universe only limited by one's own imagining of it.'" --Donna Marchetti, Islands Magazine

"Flamboyant, lushly styled, outrageous, dark, funny, cynical, humane, gratuitously violent, Byzantine, self-conscious, exuberant, grotesque, graceful, ghoulish, frustrating, cocky, over-reaching, and chaotic are all valid descriptors of the picaresque tall tale within a tall tale that is Gould's Book of Fish. If some of those terms seem contradictory, that is because Flanagan's third novel is at its heart, among other things, such a willful--at times joyful--contradiction that its pages at times seem barely capable of containing it. . . . Gould's Book of Fish raises its author into the sparse pantheon of contemporary fiction writers whose gift of language and unique slant of mind make their every new literary effort a storehouse of wonder that no serious reader can afford to ignore." --Carroll Dale Short, Magill's Literary Annual

"Flanagan has written a Tasmanian version of Rimbaud's Season in Hell, a mesmerizing portrait of human abjection--and sometimes elation--set in a 19th-century Down Under penal colony. . . . Carefully crafted and allusive, this blazing portrait of Australia's colonial past will surely spread Flanagan's reputation among American readers." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Flanagan may very well become Tasmania's man of letters. . . . Flanagan's darkly humorous tale is impressive in its ability to cross seamlessly the borders between the realistic and fantastic and carries a wonderful sense of drama and satisfying closure." --Library Journal

"Ambitious. . . . The author's fascination with the colorful, violent history of his native land and the resilience of the hard, passionate people who live on its barren soil is evident in a book whose bizarre characters are often as ragged and dangerous as the terrain itself." --Kevin Greenberg, Book

"The book's most insistent themes--the horrors of 19th-century Van Diemen's Land and their ironic application as a funhouse mirror for contemporary society--are hammered brutally home. . . . There are echoes of Joyce, Marx, Sartre and Kafka, as well as of several 18th-century writers. . . . Magical-realist colonial-protest novel, Borgesian found-manuscript tale, anti-Enlightenment Foucauldian fable, an Oulipo-style fiction built around Gould's paintings as Calvino's The Castle of Crossed Destinies is built around the Tarot deck; shaggy dog story, parody, satire on modern Tasmania--the list could go on. Gould's Book of Fish is an ambitious book. . . . Flanagan somehow makes it work on the page--largely through the mighty voice he has devised for Gould." --Christopher Tayler, London Review of Books (UK)

"A phosphorescing talisman with a dual capacity to enchant and unhinge . . . Ultimately, Flanagan's vision concerns neither art nor fish. It concerns the power of words to make worlds, and the impotence of actions to destroy them. Is it a masterpiece? Halfway through my second read, I know so." --Good Reading (Sydney)

"A Tasmanian version of Ovid's Metamorphosis . . . An exuberant, splendidly written, hugely ambitious work . . . It is a great story, finely told, a consummate use of fiction to carry, without fuss or apparent effort, some of the darkest truths or corruptions of our history." --Australian Book Review (Melbourne)

"An exotic thing, unlike any book previously published in Australia, or perhaps the world . . . Flanagan has written a demented Tasmanian fable, like a wild dream that overlaps the nightmare of penal brutality with meditations on art and love, tourism and politics, casinos and bush-rangers and bonfires and breasts and fish." --The Age (Melbourne)

"To describe Gould's Book of Fish as the tale of a convict in Van Diemen's Land who paints fish is about as accurate as saying Moby-Dick is a story about a whale. Billy Gould is as saintly as Billy Budd and as cravenly split as any of Dostoyevsky's characters. Billy is Everyman and his tale, from his conception in a casual coupling by two nameless people, his childhood in a poorhouse, his years as a London street villain, and a convict in the harshest place on earth, is an affirmation of life rather than a lament for it." --The Weekend Australian

"This vast, artful epic is the most audacious yet from this wonderful Tasmanian novelist. Sculpted from a turbulent national history, this vibrant story poses as the journal of a penal island convict who relates brutal and hilarious tales of the island's eccentric inhabitants and the atrocities they perpetrate. Flanagan's narrative sweep, vivid imagination, and rugged poeticism make him a world-class author." --Jamie Kornegay, Square Books, Oxford, MS, Book Sense quote

"By a majority, we chose the most controversially difficult and demanding of the four books that were before us, because we detected in it a touch of genius that, we believe, will give it enduring significance. It is an impossible book to describe or summarize. Some of the judges used adjectives like Dantean, Joycean, even grotesque. To mix some of the metaphors we coined to capture its quality: 'this is a baggy monster of a book that does literary cartwheels on a tightrope.'" --Right Reverend Bishop Holloway, chairman of the judges panel, the Commonwealth Prize