Developing magical realism’s irony in <i>Gould’s Book of Fish</i>


  • Ben Holgate


magical realism, post-colonialism, metafiction


Irony is an underlying factor of magical realist fiction. Richard Flanagan’s novel Gould’s Book of Fish (2001) is imbued with a particular kind of irony that results from a gap between a contemporary reader’s lament for a lost pre-modern world, that of Indigenous Tasmanians, and the book’s eponymous nineteenth-century narrator’s rage about the disappearance of that culture, one which the British convict cannot fully comprehend. Flanagan exploits and plays with this irony by using a range of epistemological magical realist techniques and associated metafictional devices. This enables Flanagan to navigate around his position as a white settler author to indirectly portray Tasmanian pre-colonial society. The novel creates a second type of irony by attacking the European Enlightenment as being a tool for imperialist domination and the subjugation of Indigenous societies, while at the same time the text upholds the Enlightenment’s humanitarian ideals. Gould’s Book of Fish, therefore, plays a critical role in the development of magical realism in contemporary Australian fiction.

Author Biography

Ben Holgate

Ben Holgate is reading for a Doctor of Philosophy in English at the University of Oxford. He has a MA (Res) in English and a M.Com from the University of Sydney.