Monday 26 April 2010

Gould's Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan

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 and much heart rending and disturbing description of torture and other such. These two extracts below I thought were worth quoting here:

I would prefer to ..... watch the thrush smashing the snails against a rock in the midst of a litter of other similarly shattered shells until it can free the meal inside. Much better than an illustrated inventory of thrush types, defined by claw similarities, by beak differences. Much better to hear the plaintive toot-toot of the nightingale when it is alarmed and see its young chicks freeze stock still in response than analyse a collection of stuffed birds in a glass case by radius of head and distance of extended wing tip.

when I finished the painting and looked at that poor leatherjacket which now lay dead on the table 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 and beauty in consequence, what, in the end, would be left?

It began to worry me, you see, this destruction of fish, this attrition of love that we were blindly bringing about, & I imagined a world of the future as a barren samenessin which everyone had gorged so much fish that no more remained, & where Science knew absolutely every species & phylum & genus, but no-one knew love because it had disappeared with the fish.


Anonymous said...

Definitely one of the most original books I've read in ages. I was completely drawn into his imagined world.

Lisa said...

Wow this sounds really good. you just keep adding to my reading list!

PurestGreen said...

Beautiful, lush language. Thank you for sharing this.

Kay said...

thans for the reading tip..I will have to look for this one too.