Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
Gould's Book of Fish Paperback – December 26, 2002
|New from||Used from|
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
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 --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Flanagan (The Sound of One Hand Clapping) 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. A small-time forger of antiques in contemporary Tasmania finds a mysterious illustrated manuscript that recounts in harrowing detail the rise and fall of a convict state on Sarah Island, off the Tasmanian coast, in the 1830s. The text is penned by William Gould, a forger and thief (and an actual 19th-century convict) shipped from England to a Tasmanian prison run as a private kingdom by the Commandant, a lunatic tyrant in a gold mask rumored to have been a convict himself. The prison world consists of a lower caste of convicts tormented with lengthy floggings, vile food and various mechanical torture devices by a small number of officers and officials. Gould finagles his way into the good graces of the island surgeon, Tobias Achilles Lempriere, a fat fanatic of natural science, who has Gould paint scientific illustrations of fish, with the goal of publishing the definitive ichthyological work on Sarah Island species. In Gould's hands, however, the taxonomy of fish becomes his testimony to the bizarre perversion of Europe's technology and art wrought by the Commandant's mad ambitions. Civilization, in this inverted world, creates moral wilderness; science creates lies. Carefully crafted and allusive, this blazing portrait of Australia's colonial past will surely spread Flanagan's reputation among American readers. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
Top customer reviews
"Once upon a time...long ago in a far-off place that everyone knows is not here or now or us." This pertains to the barbaric fable of this mind-bending, postmodern narrative.
The real convict Gould wrote a sketchbook of fishes--now recognized as a document of world significance by UNESCO--which are reproduced here and folded into the novel, replete with different color inks and a fish sketch for each chapter. The inks are made of whatever Gould can obtain (use your imagination, as he does) on the island, since paints are declined to him.
Gould is imprisoned below the sea line, in a special cell consisting of a floating dead man and a water line that threatens to rise with the tides. It is here that his confession is told, one that, between the layers of verbosity, a compassionate story of humanity is told.
Recognized as an artist of some worth upon arriving on the island, Gould was ordered to paint fish for the insane Dr. Lempiere, the island's British surgeon, a whale pig of a man who speaks loudly, in BLOCK LETTERS. Lempiere was obsessed with taxonomy. He hoped that breaking the world down into all its classifiable elements would help him get into the Royal Academy of Science. This classification also symbolizes the British colonialist approach to the prisoners and Aboriginal people in general, who are classified as the lowest form of life.
"I was to paint fish, you see, all manner of sea life: sharks, crabs, octopuses, squid & penguins. But when I finished this work of my life, I stood back & to my horror saw all those images merge together into the outline of my face."
The pseudo-science of phrenology was also on the rise then, the belief that character traits could be analyzed by the configurations of the skull. Says Lempiere:
"...NEW SCIENCE--NEW SOCIETY--NEW AGE--PHRENOLOGY, PARTICULARLY IN REGARD TO VANQUISHED AND INFERIOR RACES..."
Flanagan's imaginary autobiography gives voice to the heinous treatment and torture of prisoners on Sarah Island. The writing here is reminiscent of Pynchon, approaching sociopolitical subjects such as imperialism and racism through linguistic hijinx. Flanagan can seamlessly juxtapose a tender scene of love with a harrowing scene of abuse. Within the digressions and verbosity that is the hallmark style bestowed to Gould's narration lie the most potent, unspeakable truths of life and death in the penal colony.
"Death was in that heightened smell of raddled bodies & chancre-encrusted souls. Death arose in a miasma from gangrenous limbs and bloody rags of consumptive lungs. Death hid in the rancorous odor of beatings...with the insidious damp that invaded everything, was seeping out of sphincters rotting from repeated rapes. Death was in the overripe smell of mud fermenting...so many fetid exhalations of unheard screams, murders, mixed with the brine of a certain wordless horror..."
Gould, with his many colored inks, speaks to the reader of these wordless horrors. It will leave you mute and screaming; it will enfold you with its deafening cries. "...So alone, so frightened, so wanting for what we are afraid to give tongue to."
From the book's outset there's a sense of evanescent, transformative magic amid the menace of William Gould's life.
He speaks to the reader first through the ministrations of a devoted, twentieth century seeker of beauty, who finds Gould's original autobiography, a collection of obsessive scribblings and startling icthyological illustrations, stuck in the prison of an antique chest in a junk shop. When the book is mysteriously lost, its bereft and obsessed owner sets out to recreate the work with the extra authenticity of a disciple's devotion.
So this is a book about a book. And from the outset, Flanagan's writing makes it a triumph of revelation and humanity. This is no small task, considering that the bulk of William Buelow Gould's star crossed existence takes place on Sarah Island, Tasmania's own answer to the Devil's Island of Papillon fame. The startling, eloquent language Flanagan employs to outline the savagery of this most infernal place is one of the book's many strengths. It has all the elegance and eloquence of the language of its times while retaining a sense of intimacy and immediacy.
William Buelow Gould's life a riot of debacles that go well beyond Rabelaisian levels of debasement. His tormentors include the colony's Commandant, who, under an assumed identity, sets out to create a Potemkin village of European enlightenment amidst the insanity of his own being and environs; the physican, who meets with a undignified gustatory end at the hands of his monstrous pet pig; and the guard, with whose corpse, through a series of bizarre and surreal events, he shares a cell that fills with water at the coming of the high tide.
Taken under the wing of the physician, Gould's artistic talents are put to work in the service of a primitive form of eugenics. He's commissioned to create a book of fish to rival the one of birds by the celebrated Audubon, the better to raise the esteem of the physician among the men of science towering over the enlightment at home. Through his compliance, Gould finds a way to transform himself, and his world, in a way that defies all the evil that humans can foment.
The only logical conclusion that the reader can draw in this supremely surreal novel is that there is no art, or life, without suffering. Few literary characters have suffered as much for art as William Buelow Gould. And fewer modern authors have created an historical novel with so much mystery, color, and wisdom.
Gould is the perfect vehicle not only for conveying the novel's dark humor or bearing witness to its countless acts of misanthropy, but also in proving that love and story telling are redemptive powers.
When I reread the novel, I read sections from The Fatal Shore, by Robert Hughes at the same time. It made me appreciate even more the inventiveness of Flanagan as he reworks the historical records of Tasmania both in development of his plot and in support of his theme of history as bunk.
While the novel is set in a Tasmanian prison colony during the first third of the nineteenth century, it is, nevertheless, very contemporary in the "truths" it presents. As to literary predecessors, think Catch-22, Tristram Shandy, As I Lay Dying, Heart of Darkness, and Metamorphoses.