Developing magical realism’s irony in Gould’s Book of Fish

Ben Holgate


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.


magical realism; post-colonialism; metafiction

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