Death Of A River Guide

Written by Richard Flanagan
Review by Jean Langlais

This novel is a wondrous piece of skilled work, and, incredibly, Richard Flanagan’s first novel. His language is as rich and fecund as the Tasmanian rain forest and his narrative is as wild a ride as any white water rafting trip might promise to be.

The story is the first person narrative of river guide Aljaz Cosini who is drowning, held underwater by the rocks along the Franklin River. As Aljaz’s brain is deprived of oxygen, he has visions which he is compelled to share. He observes the events of his life and of this rafting trip as well as events in the lives of his ancestors and loved ones, and of the land itself. Aljaz relates the experiences of convicts, Aborigines and immigrants and reveals the human truths apparent in those stories.

Flanagan effortlessly draws the reader into this implausible scenario. His descriptions are vivid, his dialog direct and simple. He brings us into the lives of very diverse people, all of whom are marginalized in one way or another, and reveals a unique physical place on earth.

This novel is so original and remarkable, so skillfully written and full of truth, it is easy to recommend to everyone. It will not appeal to all readers, however. Point of view in the narrative varies considerably with each unique story told, making it difficult at times to see the novel in its entirety. Likewise, there is no clear, methodical timeline. Still, fans of historical fiction will want to give this absorbing novel a try.

Jean Langlais