Sunday, March 7, 2010

Book review: Death of a River Guide by Richard Flanagan

At the foot of a waterfall on Tasmania’s Franklin River, river guide Aljaz Cosini lies drowning. In a torrent of images both horrifying and heart-wrenching, not only his own life but that of his forefathers pass before him. Through these visions we gain an idea of the torn, troubled, ruthless history of Tasmania, of the upheaval of lives removed from their roots, lives blighted by prejudice, lives subject to arbitrary cruelty, the cruelty of man but also the cruelty of a tough and hostile environment. Yet through all this and beyond all this, there shine through some shimmering moments of humanity: tree loggers rowing miles against the current, overcoming their own pain to save the life of a colleague who has had a terrible accident, Aljaz’s own valiant attempts to save the life of one of his clients. In between there is the story of how Aljaz comes to be where he is, his career as a guide on this treacherous river. His role as guide, whether on this river or in a more general sense, is questioned, is questionable, and through that the whole concept of guiding others is also called into question.

I found this truly magnificent, and kept having to remind myself that this was his first novel; it is impressively ambitious. Some years back I read his marvellous third novel, ‘Gould’s Book of Fish’, and I now have his latest, ‘Wanting’ very near the top of my To Be Read mountain. I think it has just moved up a place.

To see a picture and read an article about a Franklin River rafting tour click here. Not for me! I’ll be an armchair rafter.


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