Troy Patterson
May 10, 2002 AT 04:00 AM EDT

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

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Richard Flanagan
publisher
Grove
genre
Fiction

We gave it an A-

”This weird record seemed to be that of a convict called William Buelow Gould who in the supposed interest of science was, in 1828, ordered by the surgeon of the penal colony of Sarah Island to paint all fish caught there.” Thus, in the preface to Flanagan’s hallucinatory novel, a Tasmanian con man announces he’s found a bizarrely beautiful manuscript. The pages that follow live up to the billing: Gould tells tales of the sea and the frontier, of the Down Under lowlife and a surreally horrible prison in which instruments of torture leave the body ”feeling as if it were composed of pain rather than flesh.” And Flanagan reimagines the dark corners of history with powerful exuberance.

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