peteg's blog - noise - books - 2021 08 22 RichardFlanagan GouldsBookOfFish

Richard Flanagan: Gould's Book of Fish.

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Kindle. Is this Flanagan's For the Term of His Natural Life (unread by me), where conviction is a pastiche and conceptual theft (or co-option or appropriation) of the big 20th century novels? Anchored in Europe, set in Tasmania, convicts are slaves where history (recorded at least) is rewritten as in 1984, the boot is on the human face, Kurtz has his palace and railroad, while the American black man (Capois Death) dies a Benjamin Button death. I grant that the verbiage and periodic bouts of doubt about this project are all Flanagan though.

Briefly Gould is a painter transported from England who is charged with painting the fish indigenous to the Sarah Island penal colony. Wish fulfilment via coincidences and magical realism ensues.

Wanting now strikes me as offcuts from this: Flanagan could not house here all of his research on the bloke rounding up the remaining wild Tasmanian Aborigines, or Towtereh and his daughter. Both novels spend some time on collecting heads and sending them to England. As phrenology is a softer and more ridiculous target than eugenics, strawmen can be sighted everywhere.

I didn't get all of it. At times the eyeglazing verbosity got the best of me, especially towards the end. Overall it is probably more interesting to dig into the actual history that he's working off and reacting to. I enjoyed a few of his lines ("Is there nothing that doesn’t mean sex to [Americans]?" the [Italian] Conga had one day asked, to which [the Vietnamese] Mr Hung had replied, "People".) and his offhanders like blackfella-whitefelon language. But as with his other work the whole thing felt like mere scaffolding for such lines and brainfarts about love and the goodness of the world. Does Flanagan ever get to grips with the idea of love? He bandies it about like a brand name.

Michiko Kakutani. The people at Goodreads dug into it. Brian Matthews makes his observations and some polite excuses for making them. Ovid's Metamorphosis perhaps; in my frame, clearly Kafka, and Heart of Darkness of course. And so on.