Richard Flanagan

For the inhabitants of mainland Australia, ‘history’ is often complicated by the sheer fact of geography. Instead of one central node, European colonisation expanded from multiple centres, each isolated in space and founded on differing socio-political premises over staggered periods of time, and each with populations too various in background to allow much in the way of agreement about some völkisch collective past.

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These days I am no longer sure what is memory and what is revelation. How faithful the story you are about to read is to the original is a bone of contention with the few people I had allowed to read the original Book of Fish … certainly, the book you will read is the same as the book I remember reading ... ... (read more)

Australia in the imagination of its first European mapmakers was a curious place where odd creatures dwelt. Now that a metropolitan culture emanates from cities to encircle the continent with farms, roads, towns, and nature reserves, the spaces marked ‘exotic’ have shifted. But they’re still here. I know, because I’ve recently moved from Melbourne to Tasmania. Why are you doing this? Asked West Australian colleagues when we talked at a conference in south India. Tasmania’s a great place for a holiday, but how could you live there? It’s so far from everywhere, and you’ll have no one to talk to.

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Before you start this novel, take a big, deep breath. Aljaz Cosini – riverguide, ex-footballer, drifter – is drowning, and we’re going along for the ride. There he is, stuck fast beneath the surface of Tasmania’s Franklin River, hopelessly wedged between rocks, his one free arm waving grotesquely to the unlikely band of adventurers who have paid for his services. The irony isn’t lost on him. Not much is lost on him at all. It seems his whole life, from his miraculous birth (struggling to break free from the restrictive sac of amniotic fluid) to his final humiliation on the river, has been leading inevitably to this moment. And now the river carries not only his own past but the pasts of all those who have gone before him like a great tide of stories washing over him, pushing him down, forcing more and more water into his lungs. Stories, stories, stories. A world and a land and even a river full of the damn slippery things.

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