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"Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish" by Richard Flanagan

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Sometimes the buzz surrounding a book crashes through my everyday. Such is the case with "Gould's Book of Fish," a story ultimately about the brutal strength of empire and the truly callous way science applied itself in the service of accepted wisdom in the 19th century.

The prison surgeon, an obese, self-absorbed, and manically ambitious individual, assigns Billy Gould, a small-time forger and crook, the job of painting the various species of fish caught by the surgeon and others. Additionally, the camp's commandant, himself an impostor wearing a gold mask, is skimming funds from the government to build a new city-state in this island off the coast of Tasmania. Well, the surgeon, who wanted to advance the art of Enlightenment classification, is killed and eaten by his pet pig and becomes "the largest pig turd on the planet." The commandant, too, comes to an appropriately ghastly end. But these plot particulars do not begin to inform you about this remarkable, outrageous outlier of a book. Flanagan blesses his reader with a very healthy dose of the outlandish, the impossible. There is an ultimate metamorphosis in the book which I will not spoil. The triumph of the book for the author is in its unbelievably inventive plot devices and prose. The triumph for the reader and the main character is the final transcendence over the Enlightenment's compunction to classify everything (including aboriginals as sub-human), and the madness of Britain's imperial and penal systems.

Oh my gosh! If you've missed this one so far, you should definitely open it up. Its plot elements may not be for everyone, but the theme of man's inhumanity etc. etc. is universal.
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