Gould's Book of Fish

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

3.69 (3,271 ratings by Goodreads)
By (author) 

List price: US$11.38

Currently unavailable

Add to wishlist

AbeBooks may have this title (opens in new window).

Try AbeBooks


FROM THE WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2014 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 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...show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 464 pages
  • 129.54 x 193.04 x 33.02mm | 408.23g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Main
  • 1843540703
  • 9781843540700
  • 46,821

About Richard Flanagan

Richard Flanagan is the author of three novels which have all been published to international acclaim: Death of a River Guide, The Sound of One Hand Clapping and Gould's Book of Fish. His latest novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North won the Man Booker Prize 2014. He lives with his family in West Hobart, Tasmania.show more

Review Text

This is the third novel by the acclaimed Tasmanian novelist Richard Flanagan. It is 1828, and the convict and forger Billy Gould has been sent to the most brutal and mad penal colony in Tasmania. There he is set to paint a book of fish. Is this a brilliant novel? Probably, but it is one that is perhaps a little too aware of its need to be brilliant. Flanagan's writing is vivid, compelling and moving, but every now and again becomes merely self-worshipping. The penal colony is sometimes upriver of the final destination in Apocalypse Now in its madness and despair, and the characters in the book would have loved Catch 22. Billy Gould is an ancestor of Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot, particularly in his acceptance of pain as the norm for suffering humanity. The problem with the novel is that Flanagan is too good at telling a story, and too convincing in the characters he creates. As a result, the metaphysical mish-mash that Flanagan weaves round the bones of his book (or, rather, his fish) can be distracting, and even annoying. The reader is left with a sense of a beautifully and powerfully written book that is desperately seeking to have something important to say, but hasn't quite worked out what it is. The worst feature of a very good novel is the occasional tone reminiscent of ringing up a computer helpline. The man (it always is a man) on the other end often seems to offer advice in a rather arch tone of knowingness, seeming to share an in-joke that no-one has ever told you and at the same time making it clear that he knows and understands infinitely more than you ever will. If at times I wished Flanagan's hero and narrator had been drowned in his sea-admitting cell it is probably a compliment. It is also a sign that Flanagan should stop trying to write The Great Tasmanian Novel, and just write. He does it very well. Martin Stephen is High Master of Manchester Grammar School and author of The Desperate Remedy. (Kirkus UK)show more

Review quote

A seamless masterpiece Peter Carty, Independent on Sunday I urge you to read it Robert MacFarlane, Observer A truly great book that will be read by serious people long after most of the literary fiction of our time is forgotten Richard Holloway, Sunday Herald A masterpiece John Burnside, The Times Hugely original Alex Clark, The Guardian Gould's Book of Fish is a novel about fish the way Ulysses is a novel about the events of a single day Michiko Kakutani, New York Times A strange and amazing book Alex Linklater, Prospectshow more

Rating details

3,271 ratings
3.69 out of 5 stars
5 28% (925)
4 34% (1,125)
3 21% (700)
2 10% (339)
1 6% (182)

Our customer reviews

Gould's Book of Fish is the third book by Australian author, Richard Flanagan. The Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, in the State Library of Tasmania holds a book titled "Sketchbook of fishes" which features 36 watercolour on paper sketches of marine life painted by convict William Buelow Gould at Macquarie Harbour Penal Station in Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania) around 1832. Whilst Flanagan's book contains twelve of those sketches, that is where the resemblance ends. Flanagan takes some historical figures (Gould, Governor Arthur, Gentleman Bushranger Matthew Brady, Ackermann) and facts (penal settlement at Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour, Gould's "Sketchbook of fishes") and builds around these a fantastic tale of megalomania on a remote convict island. It is a rewriting by a person of questionable sanity (Sid Hammet) of a book produced by a 19th century convict of questionable sanity (Gould) containing an account of Gould's life which experts deem to be of questionable authenticity, and of which Gould himself states that it is highly subjective and may not be true. Which is probably quite appropriate as the main characters (Gould and Hammet) are forgers. Flanagan includes some delightful imagery ".....some brittle cotton threads cheerily jutting out like Great Aunt Maisie's stubble, without shame and with a certain archaic vigour." It was interesting to see how Flanagan incorporated each of the fish into the story. The plot is highly imaginative, brought to life with rich text and realistic dialogue, and the result is somewhat surreal. A powerful read.show more
by Marianne Vincent
Book ratings by Goodreads
Goodreads is the world's largest site for readers with over 50 million reviews. We're featuring millions of their reader ratings on our book pages to help you find your new favourite book. Close X