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Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish
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Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  2,287 ratings  ·  300 reviews
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 liv ...more
Paperback, 404 pages
Published March 15th 2003 by Atlantic Books (first published 2001)
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Mar 22, 2015 Brian rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Brian by: Gregsamsa
If, like Gould, we gaze into life’s ocean and paint what we sea, will the fish be like us, the fish be like me?

The answer is yes.

When, like Gould, we search for the hero to our history, the savior of our story and find that files were god’s joke on memory and that beauty is life’s revolt against life, is it ok, like Percy Shelly, to pause and reflect that we were injured, and that means memory?

The answer is yes.

When we realize that definitions belong to the definer, not the defined; when we come
Sep 06, 2007 Magdalena rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: serious readers
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 that kind of book. Reading it open mouthed, gasping at the richness and complexity of the text that clearly defies categorisation and classification, one feels intimately connected, while in awe of what the author has produced. Gould's Book of Fish is a serious read; one of ...more
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 fish.

Hard to argue with that, although any resemblance I may share with the pot-bellied seahorse is purely coincidental.

This is a beautiful book, for all its scabrous people and doings. It is, as any good bl
Billy Gould, prisoner, Sarah Island Penal Colony, Tasmania, 1830ish:

“The truth is that there is something irretrievably fishy about us all.

For many years I have been painting fish, & I would have to say that what once was an imposition – what started out as an order, became a cosy push then a criminal act – is now my love. At first I tried, in spite of my artistick shortcomings, to create a record of this place, a history of its people & its stories, & all of it was to be fish. At t
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 William Gould, sentenced to life imprisonment for forgery he didn't commit, recounts his pathway of survival and tenuous hold on sanity and reaches toward meaning in his life by writing his story. Each chapter is linked to a painting of a specific species o ...more
Paul Bryant
Nov 23, 2012 Paul Bryant added it
Shelves: novels
An afterthought -

I ran into this rave review here the other day

and 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 this made me think...


Damn, I hate it when I'm not 100% right about everything all the time.
Now I have to get this thing and try it again. This is the stuff of councelling sessions!


In David G's review of t
My copy of Gould's Book of Fish contains three pages of snippets from various magazines and newspapers, all praising the novel as wonderful and inventive - since the pages are printed on both sides it makes for a total of six pages of admiration for the book. I felt almost as if I was reading a popular paperback bestseller picked up at the local grocery store, and not the winner of the 2002 Commonwealth Writers Prize. Not that there's anything wrong with either!

However, despite all the praise an
switterbug (Betsey)
This rollicking, raunchy, scatological, outrageous, hallucinatory, labyrinth, surreal faux history by Tasmanian Richard Flangan is told in the confessional voice of William Buelow Gould, a convict in 1827 on the British penal colony of Sarah's Island, off the coast of Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania).

"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 w
This book lies well beyond this reviewer's abilities.
Nancy Oakes
The writing in this book is sheer genius; I don't care what anyone says...I absolutely loved this book. It might be off-putting for a lot of is like a story within a story within a story and you could spend hours dissecting it. This is one of those books that you simply must read more than once, and if I'm correct, probably more than twice. My copy is absolutely loaded with post-its with remarks and questions & quotations...the sign of a good book for me, where there are more que ...more
Fish provide meaning in life amid penal colony squalor. A fictionalized account of convict artist William Gould -

As an equation this book might be something like:
(Malone Dies * Mason and Dixon)/The Jerilderie Letter. Although it was much darker than Death of a River Guide, it did not (in my philistine opinion) wallow in abject nihilism the way that book did. "Now I just watch & think the ridiculous, the improbable: the world is good, I think, & t
Dark, foul, and a little pretentious. This is one of those books where I can appreciate the author's gift of descriptive language but just find the subject matter repetitive and a bit much. Maybe someone at book club will disagree. :)
Dennis Littrell
Flanagan, Richard. Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in 12 Fish (2001) *****
An extraordinary tale, funny, fascinating & debased

A madness at once divine & profane is all that Gould sees & experiences in his wretched life, & all that he wants is rum & a soft place to lay his head. Yet all about him are madmen & such, Pickwickian monsters of depravity--& all about him are poverty & debauchery of the most bestial sort, & all he wants is a fine name to call his own &am

This is the second book in the past month (following Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist) where I've felt like the illustrious critics writing the glowing reviews that grace the jacket are like traders playing the futures market. There's no denying that Flanagan has great talent, but I'm not sure that Gould's Book of Fish is the masterpiece so many of the blurbs paint it to be, and it's certainly not (as one of them put it) "a partial answer to the question of the relative valu
I so looked forward to picking up this book. The idea of writing a novel around 12 fish was intriguing. However, roughly 100 pages in, I still didn't care for any of the characters, and while the writing was good, my apathy for the story was greater than my desire to finish. Consequently, my decision to pass it on to my local bookstore with the hopes that someone else will find it entertaining is the right decision for me.
Elizabeth (Alaska)
Unreliable Narrator. On one page he says he did not commit the crime of forgery for which he was confined to Sarah's Island prison. On another page, he says the only thing he knew how to do was create counterfeit documents. So when do you believe him and when do you not? Frankly, I found little of this believable, but perhaps that was the point.

Or not. I know little enough of Australian history to know when the author was satirizing his history, telling us how stupid Westerners were (and often
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ron Charles
Fish stories have a credibility problem. Even from the most trustworthy angler, they're slippery tales. When the teller is a forger, a liar, and a thief who admits that nothing he says can be believed, you're on guard. But when he confesses that he's also a fish, you're hooked.

Richard Flanagan has written a book that's THIS BIG, surely the slipperiest, most outrageous novel of the year. Who else would dare start with a 40-page preface that describes the story we're about to read as wondrous, lum
This novel is unique in my experience. Well-written and constructed, it is a very appealing book. In an amazing fashion it tells a fascinating story of the lives of prisoners in nineteenth century Tasmania. It is told in the form of a book within a book, as the original "Illuminated" text morphs into the story of Billy Gould, an itinerant painter whose journeys end badly. The novel is a mix of meditations and wild stories, jumping to and fro, each outlandish scene to be superseded by one strange ...more
"I scoop the roe out with my fingers, in truth it is not for this small salty pleasure that i covet the sea urchins, but for the bright purple spikes which it's shell is armoured like a lurid aquatic echidna."

- Mixed with spittle & rancid pickled pork fat, he makes ink to paint his fish.
La sfârșitul acestui roman, după ultima frază care dă un cu totul alt sens poveștii, am simțit nevoia să o iau de la capăt - dar n-am făcut-o, pentru că Gould's Book of Fish m-a stors deja de puteri. Pe cât de dificilă și de chinuitoare a fost lectura, pe atât de intensă și de obsedantă a fost povestea. Frumoasă, minunată - nu, nu a fost așa. A fost sumbră, densă, un adevărat labirint de personaje și întâmplări care se năruie spre final, când elementele poveștii nu se mai potrivesc, iar înțelege ...more
Juliet Wilson
This is a magnificent novel, a surreal but sometimes brutally realistic wander through the live of a convict colony on an island off Van Dieman's Land (now Tasmania). William Buelow Gould, a convict is ordered to paint a book of fish and in the process learns to love fish and to wonder very much about the relationships between humans and the environment and between the native peoples of the island and their brutal colonisers, not to mention the convicts. It's a book with much food for thought an ...more
I'm not sure what the point of this book was. It started with such an intriguing premise: the unnamed narrator finds a seemingly incomprehensible book, called The Book of Fish, written and illustrated by a convict. He becomes obsessed with it and can't stop reading it, until one day it dissolves into a pile of salt water.

And that's where I lost interest.
Look, I'm all for learning about local history, especially as Tasmania is a place I don't know much about. I was not impressed, then, when what
Reviews for this book have called it the first great book of the twenty-first century, and when you get through it, it's hard to disagree. Flanagan is a writer of Nabokovian proportions -- he owns the language in a way that few, if any, living writers do. The soul of the thing is incredible, as is its potent mixture of beauty and brutality. It's at once confounding and totally appropriate that this was written by a former butcher.
Jeanette (jema)
This book took me ages to read simply cause of the language and the way it was written. I both loved it and loathed it in equal measure. It is complex but funny. I am not sure I actually understood all of it.
Patrick Gibson
If you like joyless and bleak writing, that reads like a transcript of a very bad dream, this book is for you. If you would enjoy inhabiting a world where everything is covered with slime, mould and other sundry excrescences you may find pleasure in this book's pages. When you read this book, you are immersed in a delusional and deranged mind-space.

Van Dieman Land (p.k.a. Tasmania) in the first half of the 19th Century provides one of the most gothic settings an author could ever want for a nov
I like books with epic, transcendent endings, and this one's a doozy. Forget about the brain-teaser historicity and focus on the metaphysics, the language, and the fish.

God damn, the fish.

There are motions that reek of Borges, Marquez, etc. There are parts where he pre-emptively schools David Mitchell when it comes to the intersection and construction of human and national identity, the recursive and linear aspects of history, and the ecstatic use of period dialect. But those have all been done
I know it's layman's criticism to toss around "masterpiece" and "genius," but they're far too tempting here. A 21st-century Moby-Dick and Melville could just as well have written much of it—if Melville had lived to have read Kafka! "What here I write, & what here I paint are Experiment & Prophecy—do not judge any of it by the shorten'd yardstick of what they call Literature & Art, those sick & broken compasses."
really quite an astounding book until the last 5 pages when it sinks under the weight of it's own ambition - or to put simply when it all turns to shit. a real shame for the first 395 pages odd it is a work of wonder and art. actually the hell with the last 5 pages this is a brillant book
Charmaine Clancy
Let me start by saying there needs to be registered support groups for people who have read this novel. Not just willy-nilly chat rooms, but certified psych support and medication ... lots of medication. For it is a lonely world when you've read those last few bitterly beautiful lines, left with but one thought, 'Whaaaaa?' There is no one to comfort you, you float alone in a metaphorical ocean, accusing family members when they don't pick up on your book references, 'What manner of fish are you? ...more
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Richard Flanagan (born 1961) is an author, historian and film director from Tasmania, Australia. He was president of the Tasmania University Union and a Rhodes Scholar. Each of his novels has attracted major praise. His first, Death of a River Guide (1994), was short-listed for the Miles Franklin Award, as were his next two, The Sound of One Hand Clapping (1997) and Gould's Book of Fish (2001). Hi ...more
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“So there you have it: two things & I can't bring them together & they are wrenching me apart. These two feelings, this knowledge of a world so awful, this sense of a life so extraordinary—how am I to resolve them?” 7 likes
“Is it easier for a man to live his life again as a fish, than to accept the wonder of being human? So alone, so frightened, so wanting for what we are afraid to give tongue to.” 6 likes
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