Richard Flanagan's multi-award winning novels, Death of a River Guide, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Gould's Book of Fish and The Unknown Terrorist have been published to popular success and critical acclaim in twenty-five countries.
Richard Flanagan's fourth novel is set in his native Tasmania, and returns to the troubled early history of the colony in the mid 19th century. The novel uses the parallel lives of governor and polar explorer John Franklin, Charles Dickens and Aboriginal girl, Mathinna to explore what happens when the ideals of the Age of Reason come crashing up against something more instinctive and basic--emotion, desire, instinct or 'wanting'. It also tells the sad tale of the death of the Tasmanian Aborigines under the 'protection' of the colonial administration. Flanagan treads a fine line. He doesn't imply that the British were all cruel, or that the Aborigines were entirely victims or 'noble savages'. There is a spectrum of perspectives, from the brutal to the misguided--and even the supportive. It must be difficult to write a novel like this without judging, excusing or idealising. The Tasmanian parts are much more successful than the Dickens material, and there is a lot of 'telling'. Nevertheless, Wanting will probably stir up conversation on both sides of the Aboriginal history debate, and it confirms Richard Flanagan's status as one of our finest literary novelists. (See interview, page 43.) Lachlan Jobbins is a freelance writer, book reviewer and ex-bookseller. He is currently working at the NSW Writers' Centre
Flanagan follows The Unknown Terrorist with an intricate exploration of civility and savagery that hinges on two famous 19th-century Englishmen: Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin and Charles Dickens. In 1839 Tasmania, a tribe of Aboriginals are in the Van Diemen's Land penal colony, soon to be governed by Franklin and his wife, Lady Jane. The Franklins adopt a native girl, Mathinna, whom Lady Jane hopes to use as proof that civility lies in all human beings, even savages. Years later, in 1854 London, Lady Jane asks Charles Dickens to help defend her late husband's honor from accusations of cannibalism. Dickens, devastated by his daughter's death from pneumonia, publishes a defense of Franklin's honor, then develops a stage adaptation of Franklin's demise that forces the writer to face his suffering and introduces him to a comely young actress. The interlaced stories focus on conquering the yearning that exists both in the Aboriginals and the noble English gentlemen, and though Flanagan has a tendency to hammer home his ideas, his prose is strong and precise, and the depiction of desire's effects is sublime. (Apr.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
The latest novel from acclaimed Australian author Flanagan (Gould's Book of Fish; The Unknown Terrorist) is a meditation on the power of desire to transform lives. In an isolated Australian penal colony in the 1840s, an Aboriginal girl named Mathinna is adopted by the English governor, celebrated Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, and his wife, Lady Jane. Devastated by her inability to bear a child, Lady Jane longs to coddle Mathinna but instead sets her on a rigid course of "improvement." Their thwarted relationship and Mathinna's subsequent emotional devastation form the aching core of the novel. A decade later, as Sir John and his crew slowly starve to death after an Arctic shipwreck, a London writer named Charles Dickens finds himself haunted by the story of the failed expedition. This obsession becomes The Frozen Deep, a play through which Dickens seeks to redeem his own emptiness. As always, Flanagan's prose is beautifully crafted, at once elegant and astonishing. This is Flanagan's most accessible work to date, and it should draw new fans. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/09; for a very different take on Charles Dickens, see Matthew Pearl's The Last Dickens, reviewed on p. 96.-Ed.]-Kelsy Peterson, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.