Wanting

Richard Flanagan

Wanting

1844. In the remote penal colony of Van Diemen's Land, a barefoot aboriginal girl sits for her portrait in a red silk dress. She is Mathinna, the adopted daughter of the island's governor, Sir John Franklin, and his wife, Lady Jane, and the subject of a grand experiment in civilization - one that will determine whether science, Christianity and reason can be imposed in place of savagery, impulse and desire. A quarter of a century passes. Somewhere in the Arctic, Sir John Franklin has disappeared, along with his crew and two ships on an expedition to find the fabled Northwest Passage. England is horrified as reports of cannibalism filter back from search parties, no one more so than the most celebrated novelist of the day, Charles Dickens, for whom Franklin's story becomes a means to plumb the frozen depths of his soul. 4.2 out of 5 based on 8 reviews
Wanting

Omniscore:

Classification Fiction
Genre Historical Fiction, General Fiction
Format Hardback
Pages 272
RRP £14.99
Date of Publication September 2009
ISBN 978-1848870710
Publisher Atlantic
 

1844. In the remote penal colony of Van Diemen's Land, a barefoot aboriginal girl sits for her portrait in a red silk dress. She is Mathinna, the adopted daughter of the island's governor, Sir John Franklin, and his wife, Lady Jane, and the subject of a grand experiment in civilization - one that will determine whether science, Christianity and reason can be imposed in place of savagery, impulse and desire. A quarter of a century passes. Somewhere in the Arctic, Sir John Franklin has disappeared, along with his crew and two ships on an expedition to find the fabled Northwest Passage. England is horrified as reports of cannibalism filter back from search parties, no one more so than the most celebrated novelist of the day, Charles Dickens, for whom Franklin's story becomes a means to plumb the frozen depths of his soul.

Read an extract from the novel on the New York Times website

Reviews

The Los Angeles Times

Jon Fasman

In "Wanting," Richard Flanagan has written an exquisite, profoundly moving, intricately structured meditation about the desire for human connection in its many forms -- that commingling of compassion, curiosity, care, lust, attraction, intrigue, selfishness and selflessness that is clumsily grouped under that most perilous of all abstract nouns: love.

10/05/2009

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The Times

Rachel Holmes

Wanting is a startling meditation on the tragic cost of emotional repression and the physical violence and psychic disfigurement to which the constraint of self-expression give rise. Flanagan brilliantly excavates historical truth with the light touch of an irresistibly good story, humour, and the wry observance that much of European civilisation depends on not dancing naked in polite drawing rooms.

12/09/2009

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The Guardian

Giles Foden

What Flanagan has done, and it does seem to be the current trend in the post-colonial novel, is show how the colonised and the home territories are inextricably linked, however far apart they might seem at first glance... In less capable hands the different strands of this artfully constructed novel could have made for bad neighbours, but here the affinity is made plain.

26/09/2009

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The New York Times

William Boyd

...considering its vast ambitions, “Wanting” is also a modestly sized novel, and sometimes one wishes Flanagan had the ease and space of a Victorian three-decker to incorporate the complex narrative and thematic machinery he imposes on himself. He has to compress and summarize in order to fulfill the historical exposition required, and the strain of fitting a quart into a pint pot is occasionally evident... However, the novel illustrates once again — with terrific brio and aplomb — how fictionalizing history and real people can pay great dividends.

24/06/2009

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The New Yorker

Books Briefly Noted

The narrative scope is ambitious; we move between the story of a young Aboriginal woman wrenched from her family by the broody and bored wife of the British governor, and an account of Charles Dickens’s extramarital affairs. The connection between the two is slight (Dickens co-wrote a play about the governor’s ill-fated search for the northwest passage), but Flanagan forges from them an entirely unified meditation on desire, “the cost of its denial, the centrality and force of its power in human affairs.”

01/06/2009

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The Washington Post

Ron Charles

Whereas Flanagan's earlier novels described the settlement of Tasmania with spellbinding effect, the fragments of that history presented in "Wanting" presume a familiarity with his home country that few readers abroad will possess. Particularly in the early sections, the effect can be as confounding as it is dazzling. But persist and you'll quickly be drawn into the variations of sadness and yearning that connect these famous figures, rendering them all the more familiar and tragic.

27/05/2009

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The New York Times

Michiko Kakutani

Mr. Flanagan does a magical job of conjuring his native Tasmania as it must have appeared to English settlers... The one serious problem with “Wanting” is Mr. Flanagan’s decision to play fast and loose with the facts in reimagining Sir John’s life... [This has] the collateral effect of making the reader question the story Mr. Flanagan tells.

21/05/2009

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The Daily Mail

Kathy Stevenson

In his notes, the author says this book is about desire. But it is about much more than that: it is about denial - of feelings, of truth and of displacement, with the sorry treatment of the Aboriginal people being a central theme. And it begs the question: what is savagery and what is civilisation? Flanagan crams many weighty issues into this (thankfully) slightish book

02/10/2009

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