Photo of Tasmania by natmeister used under a Creative Commons license.
Richard Flanagan, Gould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in 12 Fish (Grove Press, 2001).
In the 1820s, one William Buelow Gould was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Sarah Island penal colony in what was then Van Diemen’s Land and is now Tasmania. An artist, Gould found himself painting a book of fish for the prison doctor, named Lempriere. Gould was real, and the book is decorated with his art, but the story is a fiction spun by Richard Flanagan. It won’t be for everyone, so you might take a look at the reviews. If you have a chance, pick up the hard-cover edition – you won’t regret it.
Google Book Search has an excerpt and other good stuff. BookReporter.com has a lengthy excerpt. Giles Hugo interviews Flanagan. The Complete Review has links to many reviews and one of its own (scroll down). Here are reviews by James Campbell (The New York Times), Michiko Kakutani (The New York Times), Anne-Marie Thomas (Journal of Australian Studies), Gordon Hauptfleisch (BlogCritics), Robert MacFarlane (The Guardian), Ann Skea (Eclectica), and Tricia Cornell (CityPages (Minneapolis/St. Paul)). Malcolm Knox and Mark Tewfik are pro and con. Here’s more from Robin Simpson, Tom, mark, and bicyclefish. Paul Devlin says it’s “profoundly awful.” Michael Gorey is no fan either. Devlin and Gorey apparently did not have a say in the 2002 Commonwealth Prize, which Flanagan was awarded for the book. If you look at only one portrait of Flanagan, make it this one.