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

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9780802117113: Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in 12 Fish

The most remarkable novel yet from the internationally acclaimed author of Death of a River Guide and The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Gould's Book of Fish is a marvelous historical epic of nineteenth-century Australia, a world of convicts and colonists, thieves and catamites, whose bloody history is recorded in a very unusual taxonomy of fish. It is the kind of book that comes along once in a very great while -- a book of breathtaking writing and intellectual inquiry that stands out as one of the best novels of recent years. William Buelow Gould was a forger and thief sentenced to life imprisonment in a penal colony in Van Diemen's Land -- now Tasmania. After six months he escaped and boarded a whaler for the Americas, but before long his adventures landed him back in prison. The prison doctor Lempriere utilized Gould's painting talents to create an illustrated taxonomy of the country's exotic sea creatures, which Lempriere madly believed would ensure his place in history and the Royal Society. Gould's book was then lost and re-created, destroyed and hidden, and finally resurfaced in the present day, littered with Gould's scrawls recording his unutterably strange life -- part freewheeling picaresque, part Gothic horror -- and that of his country, a penal colony, settlement, and magical space populated by generals, visionaries, and madmen. This is an exquisitely produced book: each chapter is printed in a different colored ink to re-create its narrator's writing conditions, and each chapter opening will include a reproduction of the original full-color artwork by William Gould. Reminiscent of the richness and historical audacity of Jeanette Winterson's The Passion, Jim Crace's Quarantine, and Thomas Pynchon's Mason and Dixon, Gould's Book of Fish is a tour de force that interrogates the reliability of history and science, and the substance of artistic creation. "An exuberant, splendidly written, hugely ambitious work..." -- Brian Matthews, Australian Book Review

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Review:

Gould's Book of Fish, an extraordinary work of fact-based fiction by Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan (Death of a River Guide) is a journey through the fringe madness of Down Under colonialism. Set during the 1830s in a hellish island prison colony off the Tasmanian coast, the novel plucks a real-life thief and prisoner, English forger William Buelow Gould, from the pages of history to act as protagonist-narrator. Through Gould's unique capacity to blend hyperbole, hyperrealism, and self-effacing honesty, the reader acquires a shockingly clear picture of daily torment on the island. Yet more remarkable is Gould's portrait of bizarre ambitions among prison authorities to further principles of art and science amidst so much misery. Key to such plans is Gould's talent as a painter and illustrator. The compound's surgeon, nursing hopes of publishing a definitive guide to the island's fish, leans heavily on Gould's ability to record the taxonomy of various species. Though Gould accommodates his masters, the manuscript, in his hands, becomes testimony to their perverse dreams of civilization and his own quick-witted survival instincts. Throughout, Flanagan never loses the well-imagined voice of Gould's candor or the character's dense descriptive powers, talents that translate into a thrilling text that reads like a blend of Melville and Burgess. --Tom Keogh

About the Author:

Richard Flanagan is the author of Death of a River Guide (Picador) and The Sound of One Hand Clapping (Picador), both of which were published to international acclaim.

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