Digging into the Past, Exploring the Present: Richard Flanagan’s Gould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish


Abstract – This paper will analyze the ‘historical’ novel Gould’s Book of Fish (2001) by the Tasmanian writer Richard Flanagan with the aim of reflecting upon the power of the creative word as a means to forge reality, shape identities, mask or unmask truths, and also to prefigure a different, alternative world order based on commonly negotiated and thus shared values. The postmodernist revisiting of the traditional genre of the historical novel does not compromise the postcolonial commitment of the writer: Flanagan’s incursions into the Australian colonial past are informed by his concern for urgent social and political causes which has characterized his unswerving fight against all systems of inequality and exploitation. In his novel, the subversion of the linear causal relation of events which calls into question the truthfulness and objectivity of history, together with the foregrounded metanarrative reflection on the art of writing, contribute to the revisiting and re-discussing of the myth of progress and the cult of rationality at the very roots of Western civilization and of its imperialistic enterprise. Flanagan’s ‘anti-historical’ historical novel tackles urgent questions about modernity interrogating the founding narratives of the Australian national identity, in order to explore the uncontrollable and shifting areas of the contemporary ‘transnation’ in which the traditional categories shaping subjectivities are disrupted. As the paper will demonstrate, the writer digs into the past of his nation not simply in order to unravel its hidden histories but to detect the profound, inextricable interconnections with the present across different times and spaces. Feelings and experiences that exist above and beyond historical contingencies and cultural differences represent the writer’s privileged area of investigation as they trespass upon conventional and artificial boundaries revealing what it is that makes us all human.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v13p107

Keywords: Richard Flanagan; Gould’s Book of Fish; rewriting; history; colonial Tasmania


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