Winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, 2002.
Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, 2002.
Winner of the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction, 2002.
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, was condemned to live in the most brutal penal colony in the British Empire, and there ordered to paint a book of fish. Once upon a time, miraculous things happened....
"Flanagan's fact-based fiction is a miraculously vulgar and sensationally evocative listen. The story of Billy Gould, a convict who has been sent to Van Dieman's Land, a Tasmanian penal colony, in 1828, reveals in graphic detail both the essence of inhumanity and bizarre acts of humanity. This vivid description of prison life combined with the story's surrealistic miracles could be a life-changing experience for the listener. Taking his cue from the enormous imagination of the author, Humphrey Bower catches the excessive vitality of Gould. Sometimes the manic pace of his narration overwhelms the novel's quieter moments, but the convict himself would probably not be disturbed. Prepare yourself to be drawn in, tossed about, horrified, and totally dazzled." (AudioFile magazine)
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A bewildering experience
- Ken Watkins
Richard Flanagan is a treasure, and like so many treasures, he is precious, and undiscovered. Passages like, "Maybe we have lost the ability , that sixth sense that allows us to see miracles and have visions and understand that we are something other, larger than what we have been told", and " I have stolen songs from God," and lastly, "There is much more I don't know:....Why an alphabet can be contained in a world, but a world could never be contained in an alphabet", are but a few of the Gems that one finds in this book. One theme in this book that floats through the story is the power of words, how they can be used to revise the history of the world we live in, and as a result, create a world that has absolutely no resemblance to the world we live in. How words can often do more to obfuscate, cover up, and limit experience, instead of adding to it, or aiding it. Yet, it is all spoken about by Gould; the main character in the book, and a prisoner on The Penal Colony of Sarah Island, speak of these issues in a way that resembles Dickens, which is the best praise I can give this book. Flanagan pulls no punches, when he writes about the Prison Colony of Sarah Island, but the amazing thing, is that so much depth is hidden behind all of the Grotesque images, and happenings. He is also funny, and I found myself often busting out in laughter when I listened to this Audio Book. This is my first reading, of a Gould book, but I can honestly say, that if his other books are anything like "Gould's Book of Fish", then I know that when I have read all of his books, and I am approaching his latest written, I will probably put off reading it. I will do this, because I will know that the first page of that book, will lead me that must closer to its last page, and then, once done, I will have to bear the interminable wait, till his next one comes out.