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Publisher's Summary

  • 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....

©2002 Richard Flanagan (P)2004 Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd

Critic Reviews

"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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A bewildering experience

Flanagan created a twisting, turning tale that is both entertaining and bewildering. This book demands multiple readings. And, the experience is more enjoyable with every reading. The audio version is top-notch; the narrator completely nails the performance.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Wonderful, Funny & Oh So Well Written!

Just discovered this writer from down under and plan to read everything I can. Started with The Long Narrow Road ... and then found this book. Both were incredibly well written. Can see how he nabbed the Man Booker Prize and is so well reviewed around the globe. The books are entirely different but equally satisfying . Gould is the more humorous of the two and the most fantastical with the early years of Tasmanian history (early 1800's) as a backdrop. You will incidentally learn a great deal about Tasmania while you learn to love the larger than life William Buelow Gould who was a real prisoner artist. So beneath this entertaining, thoughtful tale are the bones of s true story and the crazy birth of a nation. Just read it...the work defies description.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Fantastic Narration

The book is great. Written with great wit and poetry. The story gets a little perplexing by the end.

The narrator does a fantastic job. I can’t recommend his performance enough. To have such a quality performance on a lesser known book is a rare treat. Thank you.

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A Treasure

What made the experience of listening to Gould's Book of Fish the most enjoyable?

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.

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  • Emily
  • 07-09-17

Audio sample not representative

What disappointed you about Gould's Book of Fish?

The voice of a reader is really important and the audio sample would lead you to believe that the book is read in one voice, however, for most of the book the narration is done in a different accent. I found the accent very annoying and couldn't absorb the story. Others I'm sure will enjoy it but I feel I was mis-sold.

Any additional comments?

I have very much enjoyed Richard Flanagans other books but this wasn't for me.

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  • Stan
  • 03-12-16

Rich imaginative world

This book is an incredible act of creation. An alternative world through the narrative of a man whose relationship to what we regard as reality is unlike any other I have encountered. In this telling, reality is mutable as an act of creation of a future and as an transformation of a past. Whilst I at times marvelled at the use of certain words, the rich vocabulary and the amusing and incisive turns of phrase, this is also a book in which to immerse or closely study.

The audio presentation is fabulous, with well-presented different voices and accents giving greater depth to the author's often wondrous if deliberately somewhat two-dimensional characters. In this, the strength of the audiobook format is superbly served.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-08-18

Such a brilliant story so well narrated.

Loved every moment. So well narrated that felt I was with Gould in his watery cell.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-01-18

Totally Engaging

This is talented writing and a clever story woven. Enjoyed this book immensely and inspired me to find everything this author his written to read.