For all of the shifts in Gould s Book of Fish, with things like time, history, identity, and power all variable, there are some constants, and this is the basis on which the book is built Love is one of those constants Another is its corollaries, racism, brutality, and hatred clear and obvious evils A third and subtle constant is that sense of the mysterious beauty in life, and the world The knowledge of a world so awful, this sense of a life so extraordinary how am I to resolve them Ultimately, as Gould says, this is a book about life, not death, and despite the inherent sadness, the brutality, the grossness, and the torture, what remains with the reader is how we ultimately escape with Gould how the love, beauty, and even the story, remains, shining and glorious In its gorgeous use of language, its extraordinary structure, its ambitiously realised depths, and above all, the magic it works on its reader, Gould s Book of Fish is a masterpiece read it for the interesting story, and find yourself, like Hammett, lost in its labyrinth depths, obsessed, changed forever, and your unrequited love of literature both challenged, and invigorated.
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 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 nothing.
That s some writing chops there.
But he s not done My real crime was seeing the world for what it is painting it as a fish.
The 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 can.
This 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 all.
I have to read all Richard Flanagan s other books now.
A book this big offers an entire sea of woe and wonder as well as aquatic 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 antique 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 grotesque 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 fish human 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 empathize.
The 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 quote that s relevant is by the initial narrator, the antique dealer, who said, Swindling requires not delivering lies but confirming preconceptions I guess by analogy, the most convincing fake news requires 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 it.
Then 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 equally rank all equally 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 quite 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.
Gould s Book of Fish is a modern postmodern parahistorical novel I can t define what it does exactly mean but it sounds great.
I 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 misunderstood.
All the history of humankind is a history of blood, tears and sweat I have come to believe that trajectory is everything in this life, and though at the time it felt anything other than promising, the trajectory of my life was that of a cannon ball fired into a sewer hurtling through shit, but hurtling nevertheless.
The history of humankind seems to be a history of feces too And Richard Flanagan recounts it with a twisted panache and in an exquisitely metaphoric and lacy language.
I was hauling a sled of lies called history through a wilderness Time laughed Sometimes history laughs and sometimes history cries At times we laugh and at times we cry too.
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 of fish Both the colonial masters and inmates of the prison are free to reinvent themselves I loved this most about the book, the creation of a microcosm to portray the dynamic foundations of good and evil, civilization and barbarism, historical truth and distorted fantasy The Commandant harnesses his free labor force for absurd schemes to recreate a new center of Enlightenment Europe replete with a railroad going nowhere and a Mah Jong emporium Gould fits in by painting forged Constables, fanciful scenery for the railroad, and murals for the gaming palace The camp doctor Lempriere, dreaming of becoming a new Linneaus, commissions Gould for illustrations of fish and later collects skulls of slaughtered Aborigines to support anthropological preconceptions of Europeans as the master human species This book constantly poses a contrast between man s inhumanity to man and the artistic creations of humanity Gould s discovery that a writer has effectively erased history with a whitewashed account of the colony threatens his sanity More and he comes to see people in the guise of fish and fish as people I loved this metaphor of art being both a form of madness and a refuge to counter the madness of the world.
His art and his journal are what sustains him this business of smuggling hope might make them wonder, might be the axe that smashed the frozen sea within, might make the dead wake swim free And that wasn t a painting worth twopence, but something criminal than stealing It seems he represents all of us by his stuggling ambivalence Why is it that I am possessed of two entirely opposite emotions why is it that I still can t help believing that the world is good that without love I am nothing Yet, any story will be better than the sorry truth that it wasn t the English who did this to us but ourselves 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 For I am not reconciled to this world His words near the beginning distill the scope of this wondrous book Cast iron collars, chains spiked basils, the smell of men s dying souls living bodies, along with the true humour of suffering, the wondrous truth of contempt, the glorious freedom of neglect, the inarticulable fear of many fish my unrequited love for them these things I have known will never know again I was hurt by this world into making my soul transparent for all to see as words pictures, but I was allowed to do it unbeholden undazzled by anything other than that same shivering naked soul.
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 know.
And as for the ending, well it was sheer fantasyShame, an excellent author but then I really think that the hard life of living in a brutal penal colony was all too much for me.
The odd thing is that the author was born in Tamania and that is one of my dream places to travel too.
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 man.
This Novel in Twelve Fish is so much than its title could ever state or imply Under the guise of learning of Billy Gould s task to create paintings of fish, we readers will learn the history of much of mankind in the Southern Hemisphere, both native black and newcomer white and the newcomers tenuous links to their home countries Says Billy Let me confess at this point, that never have I been so ill prepared for a task as that of painting the Surgeon s fish A fish is a slippery three dimensional monster that exists in all manner of curves, whose colouring surfaces translucent fins suggest the very reason riddle of life When forging money, I had always salved my conscience by concluding that I was merely extending the lie of commerce But a fish is a truth.
loc 1773 Billy Gould is obviously one of the newcomers, the conscripted This land is not his chosen home The fish are not initially his chosen task But he comes to see a different world in the fish I began to wonder whether, as each fish died, the world was reduced in the amount of love that you might know for such a creature Whether there was that much less wonder beauty left to go around as each fish was hauled up in the net And if we kept on taking plundering killing, if the world kept on becoming ever impoverished of love wonder beauty in consequence, what, in the end, would be left.
loc 2552 And one final quote from the book Stories as written are progressive, sentence must build upon sentence as brick upon brick, yet the beauty of this life in its endless mystery is circular Sun moon, spheres endlessly circling Black man, full circle white man, bisected circle life, the third circle, on on, round round.
loc 4351 This is not an easy book At times it can be uncomfortable, but it also can be beautiful and is full of insightful moments This book of fish is ultimately a story of mankind on the earth, man against man, man against nature, man against himself Quite a unique book.
The Most Remarkable Novel Yet From The Internationally Acclaimed Author Of Death Of A River Guide And The Sound Of One Hand Clapping, Gould S Book Of Fish Is A Marvelous Historical Epic Of Nineteenth Century Australia, A World Of Convicts And Colonists, Thieves And Catamites, Whose Bloody History Is Recorded In A Very Unusual Taxonomy Of Fish It Is The Kind Of Book That Comes Along Once In A Very Great While A Book Of Breathtaking Writing And Intellectual Inquiry That Stands Out As One Of The Best Novels Of Recent Years William Buelow Gould Was A Forger And Thief Sentenced To Life Imprisonment In A Penal Colony In Van Diemen S Land Now Tasmania After Six Months He Escaped And Boarded A Whaler For The Americas, But Before Long His Adventures Landed Him Back In Prison The Prison Doctor Lempriere Utilized Gould S Painting Talents To Create An Illustrated Taxonomy Of The Country S Exotic Sea Creatures, Which Lempriere Madly Believed Would Ensure His Place In History And The Royal Society Gould S Book Was Then Lost And Re Created, Destroyed And Hidden, And Finally Resurfaced In The Present Day, Littered With Gould S Scrawls Recording His Unutterably Strange Life Part Freewheeling Picaresque, Part Gothic Horror And That Of His Country, A Penal Colony, Settlement, And Magical Space Populated By Generals, Visionaries, And Madmen This Is An Exquisitely Produced Book Each Chapter Is Printed In A Different Colored Ink To Re Create Its Narrator S Writing Conditions, And Each Chapter Opening Will Include A Reproduction Of The original Full Color Artwork By William Gould Reminiscent Of The Richness And Historical Audacity Of Jeanette Winterson S The Passion, Jim Crace SQuarantine, And Thomas Pynchon S Mason And Dixon, Gould S Book Of Fish Is A Tour De Force That Interrogates The Reliability Of History And Science, And The Substance Of Artistic Creation An Exuberant, Splendidly Written, Hugely Ambitious Work Brian Matthews, Australian Book Review An afterthought I ran into this rave review here the other dayhttp www.
com review show 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 thinkMAYBE I WAS A LITTLE HASTYDamn, 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 the Sea the Sea by John Banville he described Mr Banville s novel as the first person narrative of a monomaniacal narcissistand it struck me that a whole group of modern novels fall into that category You have to be a real expert to avoid your monomaniacal narcissists merely being bumptious bellyaching bores So here s a little list please add as appropriate I FEARLESSLY NAME AND SHAME THE BORESEarthly Powers by Anthony Burgess apparently a masterpiece, but I ll never find outThe Mad Man by Samuel DelanyGould s Book of Fish el blurbo says Throughout, Flanagan never loses the well imagined voice of Gould s candor or the character s dense descriptive powers, talents that translate into a thrilling text that reads like a blend of Melville and Burgess in your dreams, blurbmeisterI the Supreme by Roa BastosThe Book of Evidence by John Banville oh god, take away the memory of this whiny voiceThe Sea The Sea by Iris Murdoch donated to this list by David so I don t have to read it, thanks DGTropic of Cancer everything else by the egregious Henry MillerDesolation Angels by Jack Kerouac this is yes, a harsh judgement, after all I give this one a good star rating, but times change and Jack the Typer just didn t keep up with them Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre see Banville aboveThe Farewell Symphony by Edmund WhiteBUT IN THE RIGHT HANDS, IT CAN WORK PRETTY WELLThe Beautiful Room is Empty by Edmund White something happened to that boy Lolita by Nabokov1982 Janine by Alasdair GrayMoney and other stuff I ve yet to read by Martin AmisSuch Times by Christopher CoeAny for any