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Word Count: 1,093
In the hands of madmen Goulds Book of Fish Richard Flanagan 404pp Atlantic Books Richard Flanagans third novel has divided opinion in the authors native Tasmania between those whose swoon at its audacity and the excess of its imagination and those who complain of its capacity to flummox and disorientate and frankly its pretentiousness One critic denounced it as a monstrosity of a book and suggested that its vast range of reference and style amounts to little more than heavy-handed pastiche The truth about a book so obsessively concerned with the inability of words to establish truth is as ever somewhere in between Certainly this is one of the most fatiguingly inventive novels to have been published in recent years It presents us with a thoroughly confusing wilfully convoluted and ultimately less than satisfying plot It ushers in a range of ideas that much contemporary writing grasps at but ends by simply nodding to and it anchors them in a specific time and place that in turn seem to evade our historical reckoning It is hugely original yet it has also provoked comparison with a dizzying parade of writers Sterne Swift Smollett Cervantes Melville Dickens Conrad Joyce Faulkner and Garca Mrquez just for starters Flanagan has indicated in his previous novels a rage against the silence that descended over Australia and Tasmania after the collapse of the convict system Now he gives us that period made splendidly garrulous forced through a series of competing disintegrating and renascent narratives to speak endlessly about a fiercely contested experience But much of the novels rage collapses into hectoring preachiness and exaggeration Our first narrator is a world away from the 19th century but keenly in touch with it via his idea for a money-making scam Taking the idea of distressed antiques literally he hammers on tatty old furniture urinates on it and screams curses at it It is then distressed enough to be sold to American tourists
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