3.5 2
by Richard Flanagan

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Internationally acclaimed and profoundly moving, Richard Flanagan’s Wanting is a stunning tale of colonialism, ambition, and the lusts and longings that make us human. Now in paperback, it links two icons of Western civilization through a legendarily disastrous arctic exploration, and one of the most infamous episodes in human history: the

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Internationally acclaimed and profoundly moving, Richard Flanagan’s Wanting is a stunning tale of colonialism, ambition, and the lusts and longings that make us human. Now in paperback, it links two icons of Western civilization through a legendarily disastrous arctic exploration, and one of the most infamous episodes in human history: the colonization of Tasmania.
In 1841, Sir John Franklin and his wife, Lady Jane, move to the remote penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania. There Lady Jane falls in love with a lively aboriginal girl, Mathinna, whom she adopts and makes the subject of a grand experiment in civilization—one that will determine whether science, Christianity, and reason can be imposed in the place of savagery, impulse, and desire.
A quarter of a century passes. Sir John Franklin disappears in the Arctic with his crew and two ships on an expedition to find the fabled Northwest Passage. England is horrified by reports of cannibalism filtering back from search parties, no one more so than the most celebrated novelist of the day, Charles Dickens. As Franklin’s story becomes a means to plumb the frozen depths of his own life, Dickens finds a young actress thawing his heart.

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Editorial Reviews

In tracing the tangents where these contrasting and various lives intersect and influence one another; in analyzing how a random encounter, placed under the microscope, can reveal a multitude of unexpected links and adjacencies, Flanagan explores both human history and human nature. The authorial tone of voice is controlling and omniscient, as in a Victorian novel. We enter the minds of his key characters at will and learn their most intimate thoughts; ironies and unforeseen historical consequences are alluded to with full wisdom of hindsight.
—The New York Times
Michiko Kakutani
In cutting among the stories of Dickens, the Franklins and young Mathinna, Mr. Flanagan creates a musical echo chamber in which thematic leitmotifs—dealing with reason and its limitations, imperialism and its social fallout, self-delusion and its consequences—tie their very different experiences together. Mr. Flanagan does a magical job of conjuring his native Tasmania as it must have appeared to English settlers…And he enlivens his discursive narrative with some dazzling set pieces
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
Flanagan has…spun a tragic story that connects the lives of the 19th century's most expendable people with such luminaries as Sir John [Franklin] and Charles Dickens…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.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Flanagan follows The Unknown Terrorist with an intricate exploration of civility and savagery that hinges on two famous 19th-century Englishmen: Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin and Charles Dickens. In 1839 Tasmania, a tribe of Aboriginals are in the Van Diemen's Land penal colony, soon to be governed by Franklin and his wife, Lady Jane. The Franklins adopt a native girl, Mathinna, whom Lady Jane hopes to use as proof that civility lies in all human beings, even savages. Years later, in 1854 London, Lady Jane asks Charles Dickens to help defend her late husband's honor from accusations of cannibalism. Dickens, devastated by his daughter's death from pneumonia, publishes a defense of Franklin's honor, then develops a stage adaptation of Franklin's demise that forces the writer to face his suffering and introduces him to a comely young actress. The interlaced stories focus on conquering the yearning that exists both in the Aboriginals and the noble English gentlemen, and though Flanagan has a tendency to hammer home his ideas, his prose is strong and precise, and the depiction of desire's effects is sublime. (Apr.)

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Library Journal

The latest novel from acclaimed Australian author Flanagan (Gould's Book of Fish; The Unknown Terrorist) is a meditation on the power of desire to transform lives. In an isolated Australian penal colony in the 1840s, an Aboriginal girl named Mathinna is adopted by the English governor, celebrated Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, and his wife, Lady Jane. Devastated by her inability to bear a child, Lady Jane longs to coddle Mathinna but instead sets her on a rigid course of "improvement." Their thwarted relationship and Mathinna's subsequent emotional devastation form the aching core of the novel. A decade later, as Sir John and his crew slowly starve to death after an Arctic shipwreck, a London writer named Charles Dickens finds himself haunted by the story of the failed expedition. This obsession becomes The Frozen Deep, a play through which Dickens seeks to redeem his own emptiness. As always, Flanagan's prose is beautifully crafted, at once elegant and astonishing. This is Flanagan's most accessible work to date, and it should draw new fans. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/09; for a very different take on Charles Dickens, see Matthew Pearl's The Last Dickens, reviewed on p. 96.-Ed.]
—Kelsy Peterson

Kirkus Reviews
Adventurous Tasmanian writer Flanagan (The Unknown Terrorist, 2008, etc.) skillfully combines several partially known historical events to create complex and riveting fiction. His fifth novel features two preeminent Victorian figures: beloved novelist Charles Dickens and polar explorer Sir John Franklin, whose search for the fabled "Northwest Passage" to the Arctic ended in failure and death. In this inventive fusion of their separate histories, Dickens accedes to widowed Lady Jane Franklin's appeal that he publish conclusive disproof of allegations that the doomed northern travelers resorted to cannibalism. Reaching back into several characters' past lives, Flanagan vividly depicts the Franklins' experience on the penal colony island of Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania), where Sir John acts as governor to a largely aboriginal population, and his fastidious wife conceives grand "ideas for projects and ventures and organizations." One such "project" is the childless Lady Jane's determination to adopt and civilize a charming orphaned aboriginal girl, an act of willed kindness demonstrably doomed to failure. In the novel's present day, we observe Dickens eternally hard at work, pulled in far too many directions at once, ever more estranged from his fat, unlovely wife Catherine-herself burdened by having borne him ten children. Dickens' obsessive fascination with the tragic story of the Franklin expedition leads him to write a play about it with colleague Wilkie Collins and to star in it himself. The great author's encounter with beautiful young actress Ellen Ternan erodes his belief in his own stoical forbearance; he learns that he, like the Franklins in their insular Southern Pacificparadise, "could no longer deny wanting." Everything dovetails beautifully, if rather too neatly, as the richly imagined multiple narrative arrives at its several sorrowful conclusions. An ingenious, thoughtful and potent demonstration of this assured author's imaginative versatility. Agent: Melanie Jackson/Melanie Jackson Agency

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Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

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Wanting 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
jaimi1 More than 1 year ago
After reading the first view pages, it seemed that the book was going to be dry in the sense of having very little feeling or emotion. It turned out to be the opposite. The author evoked emotions of anger and sadness and I kept thinking that throughout the centuries western culture has continued to control the lives of other humans which usually results in tragedy. The author has shown this very clearly and is to be commended on it. That is why it is such a good novel.
cloggiedownunder 8 months ago
Wanting is the fifth novel by award-winning Australian author, Richard Flanagan. In 1841, Mathinna, an orphaned young Aboriginal girl, one of the remaining Van Diemen’s Land indigenous who were kept on Flinders Island, was plucked from the “care” of George Augustus Robinson, the Chief Protector of Aborigines, to become the subject of an experiment in civilisation of the savage, conducted by the Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, Sir John Franklin and his wife, Lady Jane Franklin. Mathinna loved the red silk dress she was given, but hated wearing shoes. She wanted to learn to write because she knew there was magic in it. “Dear Father, I am a good little girl. I do love my father. ……come and see mee my father. ……I have got sore feet and shoes and stockings and I am very glad……..Please sir come back from the hunt. I am here yrs daughter MATHINNA”. But when her (dead) father failed to come to her after several letters, her passion for writing faded. “And when she discovered her letters stashed in a pale wooden box….she felt not the pain of deceit for which she had no template, but the melancholy of disillusionment”. In tandem with Mathinna’s story, Flanagan relates incidents in the life of Charles Dickens, some twenty years later. The tenuous link between the two narratives is this: when Sir John Franklin is missing in the Arctic on his search for the North West Passage, Lady Jane asks Dickens to help refute allegations of cannibalism made by explorer, Dr John Rae. Dickens also writes and stars in a play about Franklin’s lost expedition, during which he meets Ellen Ternan, the woman for whom he leaves his wife. Flanagan’s interpretation of Mathinna’s life is certainly interesting: his extensive research into the lifestyle and common practices in the colony in the mid-nineteenth century is apparent, and he portrays very powerfully the mindset that led to the virtual extermination of the native population. While the Dickens narrative does have interesting aspects, it is so far removed from the Tasmanian story as to seem somewhat irrelevant, more of an interruption than an enhancement. Flanagan states in his Author’s Note that “The stories of Mathinna and Dickens, with their odd but undeniable connection, suggested to me a meditation on desire-the cost of its denial, the centrality and force of its power in human affairs. That, and not history, is the true subject of Wanting”. Perhaps this statement would be better placed in a preface so that readers do not find themselves distracted wondering about the relevance of the Dickens narrative. Excellent prose make this, nonetheless, a powerful read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago