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The measure of things

Flanagan’s looping book of questions
by
November 2023, no. 459

Question 7 by Richard Flanagan

Knopf, $35 hb, 288 pp

The measure of things

Flanagan’s looping book of questions
by
November 2023, no. 459

When Richard Flanagan left school, he tells us early in Question 7, he worked as a chainman or surveyor’s labourer, ‘a job centuries old set to vanish only a few years later with the advent of digital technology’. Chainmen would have followed the surveyors who mapped Van Diemen’s Land and the rest of the British Empire; their task was to ‘drag the twenty-two-yard chain with its hundred links with which the world was measured’. The clanking surveyor’s measure evokes convict chains, and it demonstrates one of the principles at the heart of this book: that the past lives and redounds in the present. The chainman is a descendant of convicts, and he insists that ‘there was no straight line of history. There was only a circle.’

Question 7

Question 7

by Richard Flanagan

Knopf, $35 hb, 288 pp

Comments (3)

  • The use of “that’s life” as a refrain is reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut’s of use of “so it goes” and serves a similar purpose.
    Posted by William de Bruyn
    03 December 2023
  • I read this review more than a little sorry, not because it doesn’t accord with my view but because it feels lazy, a missed opportunity to engage with the substance and depth of the book. The reviewer overreaches for “Nietzschean thinking” and “Faulknerian rhythms", chastises the author for not providing her with the answers she requires, in a book about questions, as its title suggests. What a stark contrast to the review by Tara June Winch in the Guardian (3/11/23), which articulated my own response to the book: “Only the best writing is so affecting that a reader has a physical reaction.” Where this review found fault with a recurring line in the book, “that’s life,” calling it an “adage reek[ing] of complacency", Winch understands these words as powerful, “a break in the horror, antidote to the question itself". This review concludes by holding the author responsible for more in the context of the Israel-Hamas war and the Voice referendum, while Winch begins hers by finding “clarity” in the book in the midst of such devastation. It’s no mean feat to provide a review for a book that is so much abut the unknowable, but that is the challenge, one I was looking forward to us taking up.
    Posted by Samantha
    24 November 2023
  • Wow, that's a damn fine review! Spirited and incisive. Great stuff.
    Posted by Patrick Hockey
    31 October 2023

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