‘The Impossibility of Knowing’: Developing Magical Realism’s Irony in Gould’s Book of Fish
Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature
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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.