Wishing for Modernity: Temporality and Desire in Gould’s Book of Fish


Shipway’s article examines Flanagan’s representation of Tasmanian versions of history and modernity in Gould’s Book of Fish. As one of the recurring tropes in Flanagan’s writing is ‘the impoverishment of the Tasmanian present, a state of affairs both enacted by, and embodied in, a failed modernity’, his fiction poses the question: ‘how are we to summon up hope for Tasmania’s future, when its past is so overwhelmingly full of defeat?’. Shipways argues that the answer proposed in the novel is ‘to radically fictionalise that past, and to imbue it with the residue of collective longing left over from the project of hydro-electrification that was aborted after the Franklin River conflicts of the early 1980s’ (43). ‘In Gould’s Book of Fish, Richard Flanagan returns to the time of Tasmania’s first modernity in order to realise his hopes and ambitions for another modernity that is yet to come. The tragic-comic failure of that fictional modernisation embodies the ambivalence he feels about the real history of Tasmanian modernity’ (44).

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Published 1 May 2003 in Volume 21 No. 1. Subjects: Australian history, Environmental issues, Historical fiction, Narrative structure, Railways, Social change, Social structure, The Past, Richard Flanagan.

Cite as: Shipway, Jesse. ‘Wishing for Modernity: Temporality and Desire in Gould’s Book of Fish.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 21, no. 1, 2003, doi: 10.20314/als.b966af7b8a.