Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 26, 2017

Sensational Snippets: First Person by Richard Flanagan

I am only up to page 65 of Richard Flanagan’s new book, First Person, and it seems to me that I have only just been able to resist sharing excerpts from almost every mischievous page so far. But now I can’t help myself.  I wasn’t sure until now just how much he was taking the mickey…

With a nod to George Gissing’s The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, the narrator, who is a fictionalised Flanagan telling us about his travails as a ghost writer for a notorious conman, is at his day job as a doorman at the Hobart City Council’s civic square exhibition.  He is supposed to use a counter to track the number of visitors – which is easy, because there aren’t any.  No one is sufficiently interested in the desultory models, plans, and interpretation panels [forming] an exhibition which purported to encourage informed civic debate.  Similarly easy is the task of ensuring that no one walked out with one of the models. 

So four days a week he gets to write his novel, in an exercise book concealed beneath his table.  But on this day he is agonising about the job offer: not about the ethics of ghost-writing for a conman, but about selling his literary soul for mere money, and about his literary reputation:

I worried once more about my literary reputation.  After a time, I realised I had no literary reputation to worry about.  For that matter, I had no novel. Some years earlier there had been my art history honours thesis, which had been published to a screaming silence by a Brisbane publishing co-operative, Hoppy Head Press – not so much a publishing house as a share house got lucky, first through a commercial connection with Rodney McNeep, and later by making a great deal of money out of a Pritikin diet cookbook.  A little of this then lost on a far less lucrative McNeep suggestion: my Quiet Currents, A History of Tasmanian Modernism, 1922-1939.

There had, in addition, been two short stories, one of which won the Wangaratta City Council Edith Langley Award, the citation for which had meant even more than the five-hundred-dollar cheque, extolling me as ‘possibly a new voice in Australian literature.’   The adverb was, as I felt adverbs were, hopefully redundant.

(First Person, by Richard Flanagan, Knopf, 2017, p.64)

I can just imagine Flanagan, with that irrepressible smile, cheekily inserting that adverb into his sentence!

If you haven’t got your copy yet, you can buy it from Fishpond: First Person



  1. Well, I was dithering about this one but you’ve convinced me. Thank you


    • Good, I’ll be pleased to hear how you enjoyed it in due course:)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love the bits you pulled. Looking forward to this one.


    • I’m trying to think if any of his other novels are comic in this way, and I think not, except Gould’s Book of Fish. (It’s so long since I read that – 15 years or so, but I think I remember humour!) I think that this is a departure, as all his novels have been utterly unlike each other.
      Yet what’s lingering in my mind from yesterday’s read is an almost unbearably sad scene where the frustrated writer can’t stand his wife’s faith in him. She loves him unconditionally and she believes in his novel, and this makes him angry because she can’t see how he is failing at it. It’s so raw and poignant, it’s like those parts in The Narrow Road…


  3. […] Person because there is so much to think about within its pages.  But as you can tell from the Sensational Snippet that I posted last week, it’s a book that has a comic thread while also pursuing much darker […]


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