Richard Flanagan Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In his journalistic work, Richard Flanagan has focused on Tasmanian issues, from Aboriginal reparations to the logging of Tasmania’s forests, and he has been published in The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Age, The Monthly, and many other periodicals. In addition, he has written screenplays: The Sound of One Hand Clapping (1998), an adaptation of his novel that he also directed, and Australia (2008; with Baz Luhrmann, Stuart Beattie, and Ronald Harwood). Before he turned to fiction, Flanagan wrote history books, including A Terrible Beauty: History of the Gordon River Country (1985) and “Parish-Fed Bastards”: A History of the Politics of the Unemployed in Britain, 1884-1939 (1991).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Richard Flanagan’s novels have been published in more than two dozen countries. His first novel, Death of a River Guide, was deemed an “auspicious” beginning by The Times Literary Supplement and made him a household name in Tasmania. His second novel, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, sold more than 150,000 copies in Australia alone. With Gould’s Book of Fish he gained an international reputation as a writer of genius. Each of his first three novels was short-listed for the Miles Franklin Award.

Death of a River Guide also won the Sheaffer Pen Prize for First Fiction (1995)—a Victorian Premier’s Literary Award (VPLA)—and the South Australia Premier’s Award for Fiction (National) in 1996. The Sound of One Hand Clapping won a 1998 VPLA award for best novel and an award from the Australian Booksellers Association, also in 1998. The film version of The Sound of One Hand Clapping (1998), which Flanagan wrote and directed, was nominated for best film at the Berlin Film Festival. Gould’s Book of Fish won the 2002 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and another VPLA&Mdash;the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction—in 2002. The Unknown Terrorist was chosen as The Washington Post’s 2007 Book of the Year. In addition, Dreamworks studios optioned The Unknown Terrorist for a major film. In 2008, Flanagan received the John Curtain Prize for Journalism for his article “Out of Control: The Tragedy of Tasmania’s Forests” (2007, The Monthly).

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

What does Richard Flanagan’s writing tell the reader about Tasmania? How important is it to his novels that Tasmania is an island, isolated from the rest of Australia?

Connections between people are very significant in Flanagan’s novels. How is this significance illustrated in his writing?

Flanagan describes himself as having come from an “oral culture.” How is this reflected in his writing?

In Gould’s Book of Fish, William Buelow Gould has worked as a forger. Even his names are all borrowed from other people. What can this tell us about the nature of identity?

Flanagan has described his novels as a dialogue between European culture and the Australian experience. In the novels, find ways in which European culture impinges on Australian life.

In Flanagan’s novels, his characters live close to nature. How does the interaction with nature affect their daily lives?


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Flanagan, Richard. “Hook, Line, and Thinker.” Interview by Kate Kellaway. The Observer, June 9, 2002. An interview about Gould’s Book of Fish, which includes Flanagan’s commentary on contemporary writers.

Flanagan, Richard. “Intimations of Mortality: Richard Flanagan Interviewed.” Interview by Chris Wisbey. Island Magazine 66 (Fall, 1996). An early interview.

Flanagan, Richard. “Points of Origin.” Interview by Elizabeth McMahon. Island Magazine 75 (Winter, 1998). An interview with Flanagan about The Sound of One Hand Clapping and its film adaptation, including comments on his experience as a director.