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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 con A book this big offers an entire sea of woe and wonder as well as auatic metaphors It s about life love and death as well as the importance of truth and how slippery like a fish it can be It s a fascinating history of Sarah Island home of a notorious 19th century penal colony in Van Diemen s Land now Tasmania And it features as much blood sweat tears pus and poo as you could ever imagine The story begins in modern times where an antiue dealer in Hobart specializing in furniture he distresses himself to seem authentically old stumbles onto an eye catching book of fish illustrations and marginalia by a certain William Gould The story that s handwritten in differing inks including blood is Gould s account of his life as a forger an apprentice painter who learned from John Audubon and a prisoner shipped to Sarah Island The original book gets wet and soon disintegrates The book we get instead in the 400 or so pages that followed is what the dealer could remember of the story reproducing it from his notes If you think this metafiction smacks of postmodernism you d be right I ll have to say about that in a minute Gould had a rather luckless start in life and would never have thought to sell himself as a model of virtue Even so it was a false accusation that landed him in prison Once there he encountered a whole host of grotesue characters Several were actually useful in that their benefits from his art meant that he got out of the worst prison duties The dishonest commandant made a lot of money from the phony Constables Gould created And the pompous fleshy prison surgeon had Gould illustrate Australian fish the taxonomy of which he hoped would gain him entry into the Royal Society of Science An Aborigines woman there to cater to the commandant s lecherous demands had kindly relations with Gould Even with our narrator s reprieves and moments of love life was not easy His words describing the abject horror of prison life were indelible so than some might prefer One particularly vivid example was an instrument of torture called the cockchafer Literary scholars would have a field day discussing whether this book transcends its postmodern tendencies As I mentioned it does feature metafiction but it s not presented as artifice Another nod to postmodernism Gould s unreliable narration succeeds too It did not feel clich d The book also featured an element of transmogrification a trope I felt it came by honestly In fact I viewed any fishhuman interchange which was always pretty tacit as part of the appeal I liked how it reminded me of the friend who turned me on to this great book He goes by the name Gregsamsa who despite the allusion to Kafka I ve never seen metamorphosize into anything bad What really sets this book apart from its run of the mill pomo brethren though is how it showcases genuine human emotion You can t help but empathizeThe language in this is another strength Gould as a narrator has a distinctive voice as a man s man and a man of his time The sentences may be long and immoderately spiced but for the most part are a pleasure to read What interested me most though was the message itself I shouldn t go too far into this because readers should form their own opinions but it seemed obvious that one of the major themes was the Truth with a capital T its presence its absence and its indeterminacy Of course it s almost impossible to view an issue like this through anything other than a lens of our time but I ll try not to be too obvious about it Anyway the first uote that s relevant is by the initial narrator the antiue dealer who said Swindling reuires not delivering lies but confirming preconceptions I guess by analogy the most convincing fake news reuires playing to biases A bit later someone told Gould that definitions belong to the definer not the defined These are consistent with a Nietzschean world view that says there is no truth only interpretations Later still Gould wondered whether the truth even mattered It was easy to be cynical He had seen prison records at one point that were complete fabrications meant to make officials look humane and effective To his credit though Gould reasoned that the truth does matter to those who can be hurt by the lack of itThen there was the inherent difficulty in rendering truth I no longer even cared whether my paintings were accurate or right in the way that the Surgeon his Linnaean books of scientifick description wished paintings of fish to be accurate or right I just wanted to tell a story of love it was about fish it was about me it was about everything But because I could not paint everything because I could only paint fish my love because I could not even do that very well you may not think it much of a story This leads to a somewhat related theme the insufficiency of words to tell a story as big and true and encompassing as a man like Gould aching to find meaning would like That didn t stop him from trying I smelt the breath of my fellows I tasted the sour stench of their rotten lives I was the stinking cockroach I was the filthy lice that didn t stop itching I was Australia I was dying before I was born I was a rat eating its young I was Mary Magdalene I was Jesus I was sinner I was saint I was flesh flesh s appetite flesh s union death love were all eually rank all eually beautiful in my eyes I cradled their broken bodies dying I kissed their suppurating boils I washed their skinny shanks filled with ulcers rotting craters of pus I was that pus I was spirit I was God I was untranslatable unknowable even to myself The themes loom large but there s a subtle artistry to this book as well It s creatively structured beautifully written pus poo notwithstanding and good at making you think For me it was four stars bordering on five I couldn t uite give it that last one because I sometimes felt slightly adrift The sentences were loaded with commas the characters were legion and timelines were occasionally disordered though trackable once you identify Gould s then current oppressor It s a big one to reel in but well worth the effort for those who enjoy literary game fish

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Gould's Book of Fish

Er 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 happen This book lies well beyond this reviewer s abilities

Richard Flanagan Ë 5 Download

Vict 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 forg Fish Well why not Maybe we have lost the ability that sixth sense that allows us to see the miracles and have visions and understand that we are something other larger than we have been told Maybe evolution has been going on in reverse longer than I suspect and we are already sad dumb fishHard to argue with that although any resemblance I may share with the pot bellied seahorse is purely coincidentalThis is a beautiful book for all its scabrous people and doings It is as any good blurbist will tell you wonderfully imagined A modern day con man finds a book of watercolour painted fish with accompanying text from a convict in early 19th century Australia Is it real Soon we are swimming in the story of that book of cruel confinement drugged visions of grandeur race sex every emotion and every type of man a fine kettle of fish While there is allegory to satisfy the biggest Thomas Mann fan there is also writing that provokes as it amuses In one sentence he eviscerates an entire legal system In that courtroom there was a lot of dark wood trying to take itself seriously Seriously If you ve spent any time in the majesty of the law you will appreciate that that single sentence defines it even as it destroys it Yet our protagonist finding himself in the dock is able to reflect Because you see I was born not an evil man but simply the bastard issue of a fair day s passion a folly a three thimble trick like my present name beneath whichever one you lift there is nothingThat s some writing chops thereBut he s not done My real crime was seeing the world for what it is painting it as a fishThe kettle is not simply an island penal colony but the European system that would send men there a Europe exploding into a thousand atonal notes See Thomas Mann reference above At best a picture a book are only open doors inviting you into an empty house once inside you just have to make the rest up as well as you canThis book is subtitled A Novel in Twelve Fish and there are indeed twelve chapters each with a wonderful painting of a fish twelve different types of fish There are a dozen or so colleagues on the floor where I work It was fun and relatively easy to assign a matching fish to each one Oh Serpent Eel you know who you are The Weedy Seadragon the Kelpy the Stargazer the Striped Cowfish the Crested Weedfish the Silver Dory the Freshwater Crayfish the Porcupine Fish the Leatherjacket the Sawtooth Shark and you know like I said the Pot Bellied Seahorse I like my fellow fish Richard Flanagan writes But he also says I simply had spent too much time in their company staring at them committing the near criminal folly of thinking there was something individually human about them when the truth is that there is something irretrievable fishy about us allI have to read all Richard Flanagan s other books now


10 thoughts on “Gould's Book of Fish

  1. says:

    There are times when as a book reviewer it is tempting to simply put the adjectives on hold; when mere descriptors seem paltry next to the indescribable beauty of the book itself Richard Flanagan's Gould's Book of Fish is t

  2. says:

    If like Gould we gaze into life’s ocean and paint what we sea will the fish be like us the fish be like meThe answer is yesWhen like Gould we search for the hero to our history the savior of our story and find that files were god’

  3. says:

    A book this big offers an entire sea of woe and wonder as well as auatic metaphors It’s about life love and death as well as the importance of truth and how slippery like a fish it can be It’s a fascinating history of Sarah Island home of a notorious 19th century penal colony in Van Diemen’s Land now Tasmania And it features as much blood sweat tears pus and poo as you could ever imagine The story begins in moder

  4. says:

    Gould's Book of Fish is a modern postmodern parahistorical novel I can’t define what it does exactly mean but it sounds greatI had begun with the comforting conclusion that books are the tongue of divine wisdom and had ended only with the thin hunch that all books are grand follies destined forever to be misunderstoodAll

  5. says:

    Fish Well why not Maybe we have lost the ability that sixth sense that allows us to see the miracles and have visions and understand that we are something other larger than we have been told Maybe evolution has been going on in reverse longer than I suspect and we are already sad dumb fishHard to argue with that although any resemblance I may share with the pot bellied seahorse is purely coincidentalThis is a beautiful book for al

  6. says:

    This novel of life in a penal colony on Sarah Island off Tasmania in the 1820's could be characterized as a scatological tragicomedy as historical fantasy and as a satire of the human race along the lines of Swift or Voltaire The character Will

  7. says:

    This is a beautifully written book but it is not for me I was fascinated with William Buelow Gould and I also love anything to do with fish I fish flyfishing paint and love fish So why didn't this book appeal to me Well I really don't knowAnd as for the ending well it was sheer fantasyShame an excellent author

  8. says:

    This book lies well beyond this reviewer's abilities

  9. says:

    This is such a truly different bookon life on art on fish on the development of Van Diemen's Land and neighboring islands It's fact and fiction and myth Sometimes difficult to read but ultimately very worthwhile Is it hallucination imagination mysticism erotic fantasy a gross combination of all and summarized in the world of fish and manThis Novel in Twelve Fish is so much than its title could ever state or imply Under the guise of learn

  10. says:

    An afterthought I ran into this rave review here the other dayhttpwwwgoodreadscomreviewshowand it made me think whew an intelligent human being not only liked this pile of self congratulatory rat's feces but loved it and wanted to marry it so t

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