peteg's blog - noise - books - 2021 11 05 RichardFlanagan TheSoundOfOneHandClapping

Richard Flanagan: The Sound of One Hand Clapping.

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Kindle. Excess Flanagan completism; only one more novel to go now.

This is about some of the travails of the Central and Eastern European refugees who thought they'd found freedom in 1950s Tasmania only to be tasked with damming the wild and remote rivers for hydroelectric power. The multitrack is mostly about a family of three from Slovenia, principally the father who is a violent, sentimental, good, loving, destroyed, etc. drunkard. The daughter returns from Sydney, where she has been middling-unsuccessful, to have a child out of wedlock. The mystery surrounding the mostly-absent and uncharacterised but objectified mother is strung out for as long as possible. Some Tasmanian history anchors the timeline: the 1967 bushfires at least.

Well, this is Flanagan at his most indulgent. The prolix prose is repetitiously repetitious, not only at the level of words, sentences, paragraphs but even entire chapters. Some bits were clearly slated for demolition but survived an inadequate editing process. The iterative deepening of ... well, everything meant the book far outlasted my patience. It's like he was aiming for something impressionistic like Picnic at Hanging Rock but those big infinitives of his, undermodulated pain and love led him astray. (The pain had a rhythm section at least, in the form of labour contractions, and yet is always just "pain".) Given that I tuned out, it's not entirely fair of me to ask for more of the backstory of Jiri and Helvi, and how Sonja ended up so strongly connected to her. Perhaps it was in one of this sentences/paragraphs/movements my eyes glazed over.

Goodreads has the usual range of opinions and overall found it a bit meh. David Stratton reviewed the movie version (directed by Flanagan) in a supportive way, imagining an audience for it, and claims the book is actually a novelisation of the screenplay.