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Gould's Book of Fish [With Earbuds]
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Gould's Book of Fish [With Earbuds]

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  1,969 ratings  ·  271 reviews
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...more
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Published July 1st 2009 by Playaway (first published 2001)
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Sep 06, 2007 Magdalena rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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...more
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...more
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
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...more
This book lies well beyond this reviewer's abilities.
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...more
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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 &...more
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...more

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...more
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 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.
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. :)
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...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.
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...more
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...more
Annemieke Windt

Gould's Book of Fish is really one of those books I wouldn't know how to describe. Is it the deranged fantasy of a fictional character, a nightmarish vision of the past or just one great funny - if sometimes slightly distasteful - story? Or maybe all of it.

William Gould, the main character of the book is a sort of Everyman. And reading the book it's sometimes hard to follow whether he had taken on another character or not. Names, places and events stumble over each other, making it a highly ente...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
Wendy G
All I can say is WOW!!! "Gould's Book of Fish" is about a convict by the name of William Buelow Gould, who has the misfortune of being housed in the Tasmanian prison colony at the time of its bloody and chaotic founding. Due to his artistic talent (one of his crimes is forgery), Gould must illustrate a book of fish local to the area. The fish that he sketches symbolize both (1) characters in the novel and (2) the storyline itself. This book was a pleasure to read for a number of reasons. I am a...more
Gould's Book of Fish brings to alarmingly vivid fictional life the goings-on at Macquarie Harbour penal colony, reputedly one of the harshest of the real-life British penal settlements in Van Diemen's Land (now the Australian state of Tasmania) in the early 1800s. The rambling, at times hypnotic tale is told from the point of view of William Buelow Gould, jailed regularly as a forger but perhaps more unfortunate and imprudent in his choice of company than genuinely criminal. Throughout his perso...more
May 31, 2007 Jon rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: a fan of the human condition
my quick thoughts on this book (BEWARE SPOILERS AHEAD!!):

“Can a man become a fish?” Billy Gould asks in the final pages, which is a question which seems to encompass the entire book, in that it has been the question underneath the surface the entire time. To dispatch one of the main problems that some may have this book, ask yourself, does it really matter how much of the story that Billy tells is actually true? The afterward tells us that is it likely that the majority of what was told was untr...more
Fantastic book -- my first 5-star review for fiction. Mesmerizing, horrific, illuminating, addictive, and mad. I struggle to describe it adequately, so please do check out this professional review for a more profound synopsis (some spoilers in this writeup):

An excerpt to give you a taste of the prose:

"Do you think I was only gaoled [jailed]? I wished to cry out as she turned to leave & rapped thrice on the door for Pobjoy to come & open--for I to...more
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...more
Jim Leckband
History is a fish which we are trying to paint. At the start the colors are nice and fresh but something happens as time goes on - the fish starts to fade and a stink overwhelms everything and at the end we have to deny our senses to finish the history in fish - a fishtory as Joyce would have it.

This twisted Joycean metaphor is what makes this novel unlike anything else I've read. The undertone of the unreliability of history (and art) to what really happened pervades the novel. What is fake? Is...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
More about Richard Flanagan...
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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?” 3 likes
“definitions belong to the definer, not the defined, & I no longer wished to have my life & death foretold by others. I had endured too much to be reduced to an idea. Onto that pyre I threw so many, many words - that entire untrue literature of the past which had shackled & subjugated my as surely as the spiked iron collars & leg locks & jagged basils & balls & chains & headshaving - that had so long denied me my free voice & the stories I needed to tell. I no longer wished to read lies as to who & why I was. I knew who I was” 3 likes
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