Death of a River Guide

by Richard Flanagan

Hardcover, 2001

Call number




Grove Press (2001), Edition: 1st American ed, 336 pages


Beneath a waterfall on the Franklin, Aljaz Cosini, river guide, lies drowning. Best by visions at once horrible and fabulous, he relives not just his own life but that of his family and forebears. In the rainforest waters that rush over him he sees those lives stripped of their surface realities, and finds a world where dreaming reasserts its power over thinking. As the river rises, his visions grow more turbulent, and in the flood of his past Aljaz discovers the soul history of his country. Richard Flanagan's 1994 debut about a mythical Tasmania dazzled readers around the world, and is now recognised as one of the most powerful and original Australian novels of recent decades.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Nickelini
The narrative frame of this a Tasmanian river guide who is trapped underwater, without hope of rescue, and has flashbacks of his life and visions of his ancestors' lives (which exposes the truth behind some family myths). This is Richard Flanagan's first novel, and he went on to win many
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illustrious awards and nominations.

The strength of this book is in the stories of what happens on that trip down the Franklin River. When I lived in Australia in 1982-83, the demonstrations against damming the river were a hot news story, so I had a slight personal connection to this story; a story that brought my attention to the wilderness of Tasmania. Flanagan does a fabulous job of bringing the reader into the damp verdant black and green temperate rainforest.

The other area he covers really effectively is the history of Tasmania; specifically, the convict culture and bit of Aboriginal culture. Not pretty. I definitely want to learn more about this area of the world and its history.

What didn't work for me were a lot of the tangents, general wordiness, and going on about the character's philosophy. Whatever, let's move along. Also, I'm not sure about the narrative frame of the guy being held underwater telling these stories. Hmmm.

This novel takes concentration and definitely could have been sharpened down with the help of a good editor. However, it was unusual, and showed me a very different corner of the world, and I really like that.

Recommended for: anyone interested in Tasmania and anyone interested in exploring contemporary Australian literature.

I wish this book was more widely known by people who read literary works and like to talk about them, because I'd like to talk about it. However, it would be a fail with my book club because it's not the type of book they'd want to read--half of them would say "I couldn't get into it".
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
Against his better judgment, but needing the money, Aljaz Cosini agrees to take on one more river excursion, guiding a group of tourists down the remote Tasmanian Franklin with its treacherous rapids, magnificent gorges and waterfalls, challenging portage and marginal campsites. Despite having been
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born with a caul, which is purported to protect against such an end, Aljaz finds himself trapped between unyielding rocks in rising water, beyond the reach of assistance, and unquestionably drowning. He experiences not only his own life, but those of several ancestors playing out in visions as his end approaches. Elements of magical realism allow this framework to support over 300 pages of beautiful writing in which the subject is often death. Many of the stories we see through Aljaz's closed eyes are as new to him as they are to us; the unfolding history of his family reveals an identity he had not known was his, and is not immediately inclined to embrace. "I could, of course, be mad. That is a possibility. That is also a form of hope. If insane, this entire horror is nothing more than a delusion, a malfunction of nerve endings and electrochemical impulses. If sane, I am in true agony. In hell. If sane, I am dying. And being humiliated by memory at the same time. For I am none too happy with what this moving weight of water, this river is showing me." Although the book has a definite beginning and end, the middle is fluid, and non-linear, so that I found myself reading, re-reading, moving back and forth through the various narratives picking up bits that meant nothing the first time around but were sparkling with revelation the next. The language is ne'er so convoluted, but the experience was something like reading Faulkner for me. Came the end, and I wanted to start all over again. I will put it aside for now, but there is no doubt that I will return to this river one day.
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LibraryThing member Ma_Washigeri
Wonderful writing but oh so sad. With 5 kayaks sitting outside the house the book had to go before anyone else read it, but I'm very glad to have read it myself.
LibraryThing member TheWasp
Aljaz Cosini, a rafting tour guide, is drowing in the wild waters of the Franklin River in Tasmania. As the water holds him down he experiences visions of his family down thru the generations and learns about himself and his history.
I enjoyed the second half of the book more, as I found the
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beginning difficult to follow the flow of the story. The ending is sensitive and comforting. The writing is excellent.
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LibraryThing member siri51
Evocative setting on the Franklin, guiding, punters, history of family in Tas. Bookclub wasn't keen on the magic realism but it was a well crafted novel.
LibraryThing member Vivl
Typical Flanagan sad-beauty, this strange series of visions managed to both disorient and pull me irresistibly in its wake (river analogy there; a poor one I know.) I wish I'd been able to give it my attention more fully, as I felt that stretching it out over almost a month did not help when it
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came to keeping track of who's who in the lengthy cast of characters. Nevertheless, I would not hesitate to recommend this haunting first novel.
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LibraryThing member bodachliath
This is Richard Flanagan's first novel, and it is not an easy one to assess. It tells the story of Aljaz, a river guide who leads rafting parties down a Tasmanian river. From the start it is clear that Aljaz is dying, and the book describes his visions of his past, his ancestry and the wider
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history of Tasmania. Difficult to follow, but full of imagination.
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LibraryThing member banjo123
This book is like a sneaker wave. For the first two-thirds, I liked it; his writing is wonderful, and the story interesting, but doesn't always completely work. Then, as the book comes to an end, Flanagan pulls the different threads together, made me laugh and cry, and I couldn't put the book down.
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Pretty amazingly, he made me desperate to finish even though the conclusion is in the title, after all.

The book takes place in the visions of the river guide, Aljaz Cosini; who is drowning in the Franklin River, and who sees, in flashes his life, and also the lives of his parents and more distant ancestors. Flanagan is very creative in his descriptions of Australian history, and there are lots of surprises along the way. Plus, just beautiful language as in this description:

"They passed snakes swimming, unraveling ripples in warm flat pools. They passed platypuses that floated like sticks as the rafts approached, then sank likes tones at the sound of a punter's exclamation, leaving only a few fatty bubbles on the water's surface. They startled a flock of swifts from a cliff face and saw a giant lobster sitting on a log at the river's edge, glistening iridescent greens and purples and blues in the sunlight, and even the punters did not have an immediate response to its proud perfection."

I read this because I loved The Narrow Road to the Deep North, this earlier book lacks the focus of that Booker Prize winner, but it does have a lot of heart. In the end, I liked it almost as much.
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LibraryThing member felius
This is beautiful, gripping, at turns funny and at others heartbreaking. It's a rare treat too to be able to view my home state through another's eyes.

I had in my mind some biases against reading this, which turned out to be unfounded. I will have to read some more of Flanagan's work.
LibraryThing member Ma_Washigeri
Wonderful writing but oh so sad. With 5 kayaks sitting outside the house the book had to go before anyone else read it, but I'm very glad to have read it myself.
LibraryThing member jon1lambert
All of Australia, Tasmania, past and present, is there, seen through the eyes and the memory of the river guide trapped in the water. Remarkable book.
LibraryThing member robfwalter
I think I'm justified in calling the genre of this book magic realism. However, it's a sort of magic-realism-lite, since it's written by a white English-speaking man with no particular religious background. Yes, there are ghost animals at the dinner table, but they don't actually talk. Yes, there's
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knowing of the unknowable, but the protagonist is aware he's having a vision and he admits that it might all be imagined. For this reason, it's probably about as palatable to me as magic realism will ever be. It's also wonderfully written, with genuinely beautiful passages and a sensitivity to emotion that is incisive, but used with exquisite restraint. The Tasmanian bush comes alive, as does the sad history of that island and its eerie echoes today. This book stands as one of the literary milestones of the last twenty years and is essential reading for anyone visiting Tasmania or who loves to venture into the bush (especially white-water rafting).
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LibraryThing member MaggieFlo
I finally finished this complicated and time shifting story told by Aljaz Cosini.
He is a river guide on the Franklin River in Tasmania and is fighting for survival as he struggles on a cliff in the rising waters. The story consists of flashbacks of his life and of his ancestors who were part of
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the penal colony, or miners or other trades trying to survive in the harsh landscape. Aljaz was a troubled lonely child of mixed blood who does not feel love or a sense of belonging to his past and yet this is what preoccupies his mind as he struggles to avoid drowning.
I found the story hard to follow as the timelines are all mixed up.
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Miles Franklin Literary Award (Shortlist — 1995)
The Age Book of the Year Award (Shortlist — Fiction — 1995)
South Australian Literary Awards (Winner — Fiction — 1996)




0802116825 / 9780802116826
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