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Gould's book of fish : a novel in…

Gould's book of fish : a novel in twelve fish (original 2001; edition 2001)

by Richard Flanagan

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1,520439,210 (3.66)109
Once upon a time that was called 1828, before all the living things on the land and the fishes in the sea were destroyed, there was a man named William Buelow Gould, a convict in Van Dieman's Land who fell in love with a black woman and discovered too late that to love is not safe. Silly Billy Gould, invader of Australia, liar, murderer, forger, fantasist, condemned to live in the most brutal penal colony in the British Empire, and there ordered to paint a book of fish. Once upon a time, miraculous things happened.… (more)
Title:Gould's book of fish : a novel in twelve fish
Authors:Richard Flanagan
Info:Sydney : Pan Macmillan, 2001.
Collections:Your library

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Gould's Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan (2001)


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» See also 109 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
Overblown. Delectable. I love it. I will never read it again. Very fun in its concrete literature genre. Exhausting. A very good author. A subpar example of his work. All of the above. (Yep, I'm confused.) ( )
  therebelprince | Oct 5, 2021 |
I absolutely loved this book. ( )
  jaydenmccomiskie | Sep 27, 2021 |
Dear reader, if you decide you want to read this book, I have one burning hot tip for you: don't read The Fatal Shore immediately before it. Friends and wife told me this book was dark, disturbing etc... which it certainly would have been had I *not* been reading FS at the same time. But I was. So many of the dark incidents in Flanagan's novel are taken almost verbatim from Hughes' history that I couldn't really take them seriously the second time round.

This points to a larger problem for Gould's, for me at least: the book is so obviously built from other books. The Fatal Shore is the most obvious, but also, for instance, Ulysses, Heart of Darkness, Moby Dick, the poems of Rilke, Buddhist texts (definitely) and, possibly, Blood Meridian. So my reading experience consisted almost entirely in train-spotting of a fairly uninteresting variety.

That said, I'm still an academic at heart, so:

* Like Ulysses, Gould's is overly structured. Each chapter has at the very least a governing fish, a governing character, a governing characters and, to some degree, a governing style. Do you find this kind of thing interesting? I do so decreasingly.

* Like Rilke and various Buddhist texts, there's a lot of stuff here about escaping from being human, searching for immediate experience and essentially just wanting to be a rock, because rocks don't do anything (or, at the very least, don't do anything wrong). (Also, there are *direct quotes from Rilke*. The anachronisms aren't crippling, but the tiresomeness of writing from the perspective of a non-literary type who is obsessed by Wordsworth and Rilke... well, just write from the perspective of a literary type if you want to do that).

* Like every other book you've ever read, Gould's involves a lot of stuff about how love will save us all blah blah blah. Odd that it never works, even in books. Almost as if love wasn't actually enough to save anyone, but that the thought that it were is enough to salve the consciences of wealthy Westerners.

* Like Moby Dick in the USA, Gould's is an allegory of Australian history. This is more my style. Less my style are the magical realist elements, but I accept that that is just subjective opinion. If you like magical realism, you'll probably like this--it's the Australian version: these aspects of Australian history (so the story goes) are unspoken, and (the book implies) can best be brought to the surface by allegorical/surrealist style. The fact that the book retells much of the story of the Fatal Shore kind of puts a dent in this, but for an Australian at least, it's fun to imagine that our history is important enough to require literary attention.

* Like every postmodern book you've ever read, there's lots of recursiveness here. I don't find that particularly interesting in this case--the novel stands without it, and it adds nothing other than the obligatory "oh, literature, it's so unreliable" garbage (really? because I thought literature was a scientific observation of sub-molecular reality!), but perhaps you will.

But I'm in quite a bind, because what I think is most valuable about the book is its willingness to deal with major intellectual and historical questions. The style is a bit tour-de-forcish, rather than being really enjoyable; the structure, as I said, is externally imposed and adds little. But the ideas are well worth thinking through.

I was worried, I confess, when we got the dull "oh, I'm just a character in a book, I have to destroy the book because words and art are just so constricting of my natural immediate experience" stuff. And I was very upset when this was somehow combined with the "love will save us all" stuff.

But then, so close to intellectual disaster, Flanagan saves his novel in the last few pages: Gould admits that these two positions are completely contradictory--that love is fundamentally human and cultural, not natural. And yet Gould *feels* them both. That's interesting.

So, I'm not sure this is the masterpiece so many people claim, but I am sure it was well worth reading, and I'm excited by Flanagan's ambition. From what I can tell, his recent award winner is, well, not so ambitious. ( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
William Bulow Gould - con-man, rogue and convict in Tasmania's brutal prison system of the 19th century. As the tiny world around him descends into madness, Gould saw the worst of the Van Diemen's Land convict system - a place where outcasts and dreamers were sent. He finds purpose and identity as a fraudulent artist, and slowly loses his mind over the course of his surreal and incredulous incarceration. A classic book of imaginative historical fiction from a Booker Prize winning author.
  DevilStateDan | Jan 28, 2020 |
3.3 Enjoyable and surprising, this is one of those books that convince you the world is a stranger and more wonderful place than you imagined. The only real imperfect is that Peter Carey (and, to a lesser extent, Danielewski) has covered almost all this ground better. Worth it for the coda. ( )
  Eoin | Jun 3, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
Richard Flanagan schreef een sublieme roman die voor de eretitel in aanmerking komt en die de verbeelding inzet tegen de misdaden van de geschiedenis.
Gould's Book of Fish van Richard Flanagan, is echter alles wat een Great Australian Novel kan zijn, en nog veel meer.
Gould's Book of Fish is een verhaal dat Rabelais, Sterne, García Márquez, Swift, Dickens, Joyce, Melville, Walt Whitman en nog heel wat andere schrijvers in herinnering brengt, in zijn uitbundigheid, humor, archaïsche verteltrant en ouderwetse horror.
added by sneuper | editNRC Handelsblad, Corine Vloet (Aug 23, 2002)
Of the many extraordinary aspects of this novel, the most immediately obvious is its appearance.
In its persistent concern with transformations, melding and minglings, and their opposites - fixity, category and class - Gould's Book of Fish is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's Alice books, with their endless transmogrifications, their portmanteau creatures and their jumps of scale and size.
What makes Gould's Book of Fish remarkable is its reconciliation of metafictionality with humanity. For while it is pervasively self-conscious, it is also a humanly troubled book: ferocious in its anger, grotesque, sexy, funny, violent, startlingly beautiful and, perhaps above all, heartbreakingly sad.
Flanagan has written a book whose uniqueness mirrors its principal theme - the dangers of classification. I urge you to read it.

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Richard Flanaganprimary authorall editionscalculated
Blommesteijn, AnkieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bower, HumphreyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brinkman, SophieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vastbinder, MiekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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My mother is a fish.
~ William Faulkner
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My wonder upon discovering the Book of Fish remains with me yet, luminous as the phosphorescent marbling that seized my eyes that strange morning; glittering as those eerie swirls that coloured my mind and enchanted my soul--which there and then began the process of unravelling my heart and, worse still, my life into the poor, scraggy skein that is this story you are about to read.
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Once upon a time that was called 1828, before all the living things on the land and the fishes in the sea were destroyed, there was a man named William Buelow Gould, a convict in Van Dieman's Land who fell in love with a black woman and discovered too late that to love is not safe. Silly Billy Gould, invader of Australia, liar, murderer, forger, fantasist, condemned to live in the most brutal penal colony in the British Empire, and there ordered to paint a book of fish. Once upon a time, miraculous things happened.

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